Technology Lethal To Sea Mammals
The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – the federal agency charged with protecting whales and dolphins – has announced its intentions to give the US Navy a series of permits that will allow the deaths of nearly 350 whales and dolphins from explosions, sonar, and collisions with ships during future military exercises.
Marine mammals like whales and dolphins, will also suffer millions of instances of temporary hearing loss, which could result in confusion and distress for those in areas where exercises are allowed to occur.
It’s the largest proposed authorization of these levels of harm since such authorizations have been required under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in mass strandings of whales and dolphins across the globe. In 2000, 14 beaked whales and several other marine mammals stranded themselves in the Bahamas in response to U.S. Navy vessels operating offshore mid-frequency sonar. Further investigations revealed bleeding around the whale’s ears and brains.
In 2003, harbor porpoises stranded during Navy sonar training in Puget Sound. In 2004, hundreds of melon-headed whales were driven into Hanalei Bay, Hawaii by Navy exercises.
Defending this move, NMFS concluded that the Navy would be able to rely on the ability of lookouts to detect whales and dolphins and then limit the use of sonar when they get too close. However, observation and lookout from ships, as the Navy admits, can only detect about nine percent of whales and dolphins in the best of sea conditions. This means that NMFS’ is authorizing the Navy to take marine mammals more than 31 million times.
Comments to NMFS on its proposed authorization are due by March 11th. WDC will be joining our expert colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in submitting detailed comments.