Harm of Staggering Proportions to Southern California and Hawaii Whales from Navy Training

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Whales and dolphins will be harmed more than 14 million times in Southern California and Hawaii waters by proposed Navy training and testing activitiesreleased this week.  According to the Navy's draft environmental impact statement for its Hawaii and Southern California activities, 2 million of those 14 million "takes" will result in temporary hearing loss and 2,000 cases of permanent hearing loss.  Temporary hearing loss is an incredibly serious issue for animals that use hearing the way we use sight and, in a similar vein, it's likely game over for any whales or dolphins that suffer permanent hearing loss.  And speaking of game over, the Navy estimates that its training and testing with explosives will kill 1,000 animals over the next five years.

These numbers are staggering.  About five years ago when the Navy analyzed the impact its training would have on Southern California and Hawaii whales and dolphins, it estimated that the animals would be harmed 770,000 times.  Now the number has jumped to more than 14 million.  While we need to spend more time reviewing the document, it appears that two things are driving this dramatic increase.  First, the Navy is planning on ramping up the tempo of its training:  more training means more harm to marine mammals.  Second, the Navy has made changes to its analysis based on advances in the scientific literature on how noise impacts marine mammals.  Every year we learn more about how whales and dolphins are impacted by sounds at much lower intensities than previously thought.

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While the Navy's understanding of how much harm it's activities cause marine mammals has increased, it hasn't taken any corresponding steps to minimize this staggering level of harm.  It's mitigation protocol remains largely unchanged, with the Navy refusing to set aside areas of high marine mammal density where sonar should not be used.  This means sensitive breeding and foraging habitats and biologically unique areas within the training area can still be used for sonar and underwater explosives training. We know that safeguarding specific areas of sensitive habitat is the best way to lessen harm to whales and dolphins from sonar and other activities -- don't use the technology in the same areas where whale and dolphin numbers are high or during breeding seasons.  Faced with such incredible numbers and levels of harm, the Navy must do more to identify and set aside portions of its training areas (areas often the size of large states, like California) where it will not conduct training and testing.

NRDC will continue to lead the fight to minimize the harm to marine mammals from the Navy's activities as detailed in our Lethal Sounds site.