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Navy War Games May Be Disrupting More than Just Animals in Hawaii

Zak Smith

Posted July 21, 2014 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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RIMPAC

The Navy’s day-to-day training activities wreak havoc on the marine life unfortunate enough to be nearby. This is doubly true for their war games. And now, whales and dolphins may not be the only mammals impacted, as the latest exercises in Hawaii may have disturbed humans too.

This morning, at least one dive boat and one sport fishing boat heard what may have been intense sounds from the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises taking place off of Hawaii right now. On the west side of the Big Island – south of Kawaihae Harbor, around Puako Bay – divers from the boat Kohala Diver set up for a dive just before 9 a.m. Almost immediately after getting in the water, the dive instructor surfaced and asked if the captain had left sonar equipment on, because he was hearing very loud sounds. People aboard the boat could hear it too – a two-toned sound about every 15 seconds.

When the instructor came up again, he said it was really hurting his ears. Other divers also complained of the annoyingly loud sound disrupting the normal peace and quiet of a dive. When boat captain Stephen Creamer jumped in to check it out, he said he’d “never heard anything that loud before” in his nearly 50 years of diving.

He’d seen a military ship on the horizon about 10 miles away and didn’t want the company’s customers to have a negative experience, so he moved north for the tour’s next dive spot, hoping to get away from the sound.

For a moment, they seemed to be clear of the noise. But then it started again. Faint at first, and then getting louder and louder and disrupting the divers.

Captain Creamer, who’s been with Kohala Divers for more than eight years, said he’d never experienced anything like it. He alerted the Coast Guard (which didn’t know what was going on) and the Jupiter Research Foundation (which started investigating). The Navy is supposed to follow protocols to protect people from its war games (if that’s where this sound came from) and certainly isn’t supposed to bombard divers with disruptive sounds.

Thankfully, no divers are known to have sustained injury (the way whales and dolphins may suffer temporary or permanent hearing loss), and local businesses didn’t have to cancel trips due to the noise. But it does lead one to wonder: what happened? Aren’t people supposed to be protected from the impacts of these activities? And if the sound was that loud for divers and passengers above board, what must those sounds be like for the marine life that relies on sound to survive in our oceans?

Divers today got a very minor taste of what these animals must endure. And the Navy readily admits that its training activities, including the RIMPAC exercises, harm whales and dolphins by blasting areas with sonar and other high-intensity noises or, literally, with explosives. Its own estimates project that its training and testing exercises will inflict more than 9 million instances of harm– including temporary and permanent hearing loss and even death – to marine mammals in the waters off Hawaii and Southern California over the next five years.

So while these “games” are just practice for the world’s militaries, their potentially deadly and deafening impacts are very much everyday “real life” for the animals in our oceans … and all in the name of “practice.”

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Comments

Mary FinelliJul 23 2014 12:07 AM

Mammals aren't the sole animals who are harmfully affected by sonic blasts. Fish and other aquatic animals also rely on sound for communication and are sensitive to it. Factoring in these animals, the number who are harmed is incalculable. NRDC should consider these animals also in its reporting.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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