Navy's impact on whales, other ocean mammals comes under scrutiny

Humpback whales would be among those affected by the Navy training and testing activities. (Photo: Dr. Mridula Srinivasan, NOAA)
Instapaper
Submit to Reddit
Repost This
Trish Anderton

A federal proposal to allow naval activities to injure and kill ocean mammals off the coasts of California and Hawaii is drawing opposition from online commenters.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has drafted rules allowing the Navy to cause the deaths of up to 26 toothed whales, seals, sea lions or walruses per year, plus two beaked whales and six large whales. The numbers of animals harassed or injured would be far higher – up to 9.5 million instances over a five-year period, according to the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

The proposal is open to comment through March 11 at regulations.gov.

The NMFS says those numbers would have a “negligible impact on the affected species or stocks.”

The Navy’s testing and training involves underwater detonations, sonar – which can harm animals’ hearing and affect their behavior – and pile driving. Mammals may also be struck by ships.

The end goal, the military says, is to “maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.”

The draft rules require the Navy to take steps to limit the damage to wildlife, including using spotters to look for nearby wildlife and limiting activities when animals are close; monitoring and reporting deaths; and shutting down activities if animals become stranded in shallow waters nearby.

The 54 comments posted so far at regulations.gov are overwhelmingly critical of the plan.

“Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life's most basic functions, such as orientation and communication,” comments Ronda Carter. “How would you like it if someone came into your home and started setting off explosive, bone crushing sounds over which you have absolutely no say or control?”

“HERE I AM AGAIN WHEN I SHOULD BE WORKING GETTING IN TOUCH WITH THE GOVERNMENT TO DO THE RIGHT THING BEFORE WE HAVE NO SEA LIFE AND OCEANS LEFT!!” writes M. Nobblett.  

Lindsay Byers agrees: “I do not think the US Navy should be allowed to wage acoustical warfare against the marine mammals in the Hawaiian / Southern California waters. We are very quickly killing our oceans. And if we kill our oceans, there will be no need for the US Navy anyway...we will all be dead.”

But Megan Miller argues that the rules show restraint on the part of the military: “I think that within our precautions we will be setting a good example to the rest of the world and show responsibility towards our effect on such endangered wildlife.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 requires the government to limit the effects of military activities on ocean mammals to the “least practicable adverse impact.”

What do you think of the impact the Navy’s planned testing on ocean life? You can take a look at the 7,000-page proposal and post your own comments at regulations.gov. Be sure to share them below, too, so GIMBY readers can discuss them.