updated 1/6/2008 12:31:43 PM ET 2008-01-06T17:31:43

A federal judge ordered the Navy on Thursday to adopt measures that would lessen the impact of sonar on whales and other marine life during exercises near Southern California.

The preliminary injunction issued Thursday requires the Navy to create a 12-nautical-mile no-sonar zone along the coast and have trained lookouts watch for marine mammals before and during exercises. Sonar should be shut down when mammals are spotted within 2,200 yards.

Cmdr. Jeff Davis said the Navy does not believe the ruling "struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns."

The Natural Resources Defense Council had sued to force the Navy to lessen the harm of its sonar exercises. In November, a federal appeals court said the sonar problem needed to be fixed and sent the matter to a trial judge in Los Angeles to hammer out the details.

Critics contend sonar has harmful effects on whales, possibly by damaging their hearing, and other marine mammals worldwide. The council's lawsuit alleges the Navy's sonar causes whales and other mammals to beach themselves.

The Navy has said the exercises are vital for training and claims it already minimizes the risk to marine life.

Joel Reynolds, director of the NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Project, said he was pleased with the decision.

"Although the Court's order recognizes the Navy's need to train with sonar for our national defense, this is the most significant environmental mitigation that a federal court has ever ordered the U.S. Navy to adopt in its training with mid-frequency sonar," Reynolds said.

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