Environmentalists are fuming over a recent move by an agency that is supposed to protect aquatic life, which will allow the expansion of harmful navy sonar training sessions over a five year period of time.
On Friday, the National Marine Fisheries Services released proposals that would allow naval war games off the Atlantic, Hawaii, and the southern California coast for five years, and such repetition would equal millions of sonar assaults on marine life. This could inevitably result in thousands of cases of hearing loss, lung injuries, brain hemorrhages; tissue damage from decompression sickness, disorientation, potential beaching and death.
The Marine Service’s proposals would allow the U.S. Navy to perform underwater detonations, sinking of ships, gunnery exercises and active sonar, which is so loud it would amount to harassment and potentially lethal results for whales, dolphins, seals and others.
For years the navy denied that sonar for training exercises in open water could be tied to adverse effects on whales and marine life, but as more evidence came in from scientists worldwide, NOAA and even some of the Navy’s own research, it could no longer avoid the fact that sonar was highly damaging to marine mammals, but they continue to avoid taking court-ordered measures to protect them, even in known feeding and breeding grounds.
The courts have repeatedly found no merit in the Navy’s arument that protective measures would interfere with vital training or hamper national security.
According to a statement by the Center for Biological Diversity, in 2008, the Center and its allies won a challenge to Navy training exercises using mid-frequency sonar off the coast of Hawaii. The federal judge ordered the Navy to avoid near-shore areas where marine mammals such as beaked whales are more likely to be harmed by the sonar. In 2012, the Center filed suit, with allies, against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from ocean noise brought by Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.
“Many whales and other marine mammals, like Hawaiian monk seals, are already struggling for survival — now the Navy’s going to intensify war games in their habitat? We’re learning more and more about the tragic effects of sonar on whales and dolphins, yet the Navy’s being given carte blanche to blast the oceans with it and harm animals over and over again,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which works to stop marine mammal deaths and extinctions and will be submitting comments on the new proposed rule.
Naval sonar works like headlights on a car to help submarines identify large objects for up to 100 miles or more. The problem is, those sound waves are deafening to aquatic life with highly sensitive hearing. Even low-frequency sonar can be the equivalent of a human being listening to a fighter jet takeoff.
Naval sonar has been the primary suspect in numerous mass beaching of whales and deaths along the Hawaiian Islands, Bahamas, Greece, Japan, Canary Islands and coastal areas of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Decades of research by whale-watching experts say that beaching of whales is only a small percentage of the body-count that results from sonar harassment and ocean noise, because most marine mammals sink to the bottom when they die and there is no way to estimate potentially thousands of deaths that aren’t seen or counted.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a notice in the Federal Register on January 31 and is accepting comments on the proposed regulation until March 11.
Click here for more information on ocean noise and the lethal impacts of Navy sonar.