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For Immediate Release, January 26, 2013

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308

Feds Propose Rules Allowing Navy to Harm Whales, Dolphins More Than 30 Million Times in War Games

Hawaii, California War Games Given Permission to Hurt or Kill Marine Mammals
More Than 9 Million Times, Atlantic Games More Than 21 Million

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Navy would be allowed to harm or harass whales, seals, dolphins and other marine mammals millions of times during its training exercises off the Atlantic, Hawaii and Southern California coasts, according to rules proposed today by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Navy’s war games include underwater detonations, sinking of ships, gunnery exercises and active sonar, which is so loud and intense that it can seriously harm or kill marine mammals.  

The Fisheries Service is proposing to allow the Navy to harm marine mammals up to 9.5 million times in the Hawaii and Southern California Training Ranges and 21.8 million times in the Atlantic Training Range over a period of five years. This will surely result in thousands of cases of permanent hearing loss, lung injuries and death. Ocean noise is also known to harm fish; there have been reports of reduced abundance in areas with noise disturbance.

“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.

The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in mass strandings of marine mammals. 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. Necropsies revealed bleeding around the animals’ ears and brains. The entire Cuvier’s beaked whale population disappeared from the area after the incident. In 2003, 14 harbor porpoises were stranded during Navy sonar training in Puget Sound. In 2004, hundreds of melon-headed whales were driven into Hanalei Bay, Hawaii by Navy exercises.

The impact of Navy sonar is believed to vastly exceed these well-known events. 

“The Fisheries Service’s job is to protect marine mammals and endangered species. Rather than forcing wildlife to withstand vast numbers of injuries and harassment, it ought to close off the most biologically sensitive areas to military training,” said Sakashita.

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 nearshore 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.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a notice in the Federal Register on January 31, 2013 and is accepting comments on the proposed regulation until March 11.

For more information on ocean noise, read our Web page.

Listen to active sonar from the link on this New York Times story on ocean noise.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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