WASHINGTON (January 29, 2013) – A proposed rule to be published in Thursday’s Federal Register would permit the Navy to harm marine mammals in U.S. waters on more than 31 million separate instances between 2014-2019. The National Marine Fisheries Service authored the draft rule granting the Navy’s request for authorization to harass, injure, and kill whales and dolphins as part of its testing and training exercises along the Atlantic coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off of Southern California and Hawaii. The estimated level of harm is 200% greater than previously requested permits to “take” marine mammals.
“We’re talking about a staggering and unprecedented amount of harm to more than 40 species of marine mammals that should give any federal agency involved, be it the Navy or the National Marine Fisheries Service, pause,” said Zak Smith, attorney with NRDC’s marine mammal project. “NMFS has been charged by Congress to protect these mammals, not sanction their deaths. Giving the Navy the green light to harm marine mammals 31 million times is completely counter to NMFS mission and common sense.”
A “take” refers to harm ranging from a significant behavioral impact, like habitat abandonment, to death. The proposed authorization to take whales and dolphins more than 31 million times during Navy exercises in 2014-2019, includes more than 5 million instances of temporary hearing loss; more than 13,000 instances of permanent hearing loss or other permanent injury; and nearly 350 deaths from Navy explosions, vessels that strike marine mammals, and sonar exercises. The Navy’s Atlantic Fleet activities account for two-thirds of all injuries (nearly 22 million over 5 years) with Hawaii – Southern California activities accounting for a third of all injuries (about 9.5 million over 5 years).
Studies confirm that naval sonar has been known to cause a wide-range of debilitating problems for marine mammals. According to the New York Times, “Over the years, the Navy has been forced to acknowledge what science has clearly demonstrated: noise generated by sonar and underwater detonations can kill marine mammals, like whales and porpoises, and disturb their normal feeding, breeding and migration.”
More than 550,000 people have signed a petition at Signon.org calling for an end to the killing and harassment of marine mammals by navy sonar. The proposed rules can be seen here and comments can be made until March 11, 2013.