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Zak Smith’s Blog

Whales and Dolphins in Southern California and Hawaii Are Put on Notice by Feds

Zak Smith

Posted December 16, 2013 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Northern right whale dolphin (Photo by NOAA)

The federal government has given the U.S. Navy the final green light to inflict millions of instances of harm on marine mammals in Southern California and Hawaii over the next five years, including thousands of instances of permanent injury or death.

The permitting agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS aka NOAA Fisheries) announced today the finalization of rules governing the Navy’s training and testing activities in an area stretching from Southern California to Hawaii for 2014–2019

Incredibly, NOAA Fisheries—the agency charged with protecting whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals—continues to claim “no harm, no foul” while giving the Navy approval to kill hundreds of whales and dolphins, inflict thousands of instances of permanent hearing loss, millions of instances of temporary hearing loss, and millions of instances of significant disruptions of vital life functions (migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, etc.).

NOAA Fisheries continues to defy common sense and claim that these injuries and harms will have a “negligible impact” on the more than 30 species of whales and dolphins that make Southern California and Hawaii waters their home, including endangered blue whales and humpback whales and hearing-sensitive beaked whales. 

The permit was issued despite the mountain of science (including the Navy’s own science) illustrating the harm sonar and explosives cause marine mammals, including recent literature showing specific impacts to Southern California beaked whales and endangered blue whales from sonar. These studies confirm that activities that cause endangered and struggling populations to forgo foraging and other critical life functions can no longer be shrugged off.

Yet that’s exactly what NOAA Fisheries continues to do. What is its justification for spending hundreds of hours assessing harmful impacts, detailing the plight of protected marine resources, identifying important habitat for whales and dolphins in Southern California and Hawaii, engaging with the public and scientific community over how to protect America’s marine resources, but then doing nothing? NOAA has a core responsibility to limit harm to marine mammals. In approving the Navy’s permit, it is failing, with lethal results.  This isn’t environmental protection; it’s a white flag.

NOAA Fisheries’ final rule does not require one additional protective measure that wasn’t already proposed by the Navy and isn’t already accounted for in the estimates of millions of instances of harm.

Instead of embracing the one measure that would significantly reduce impacts to marine mammals, keeping harmful activities away from important habitats for the most vulnerable whales and dolphins, NOAA Fisheries continues to cling to a Navy lookout regime that is wholly inadequate and ineffectual. This failed measure—centered on the ability of lookouts to detect whales and dolphins visually as they surface for air and then limit the use of sonar when they get too close—only helps the handful of whales and dolphins that Navy personnel detect within a limited range. With a detection rate for marine mammals that hovers around 10 percent even in the best of conditions and studies showing serious harm—including temporary hearing loss, hitting marine mammals beyond the shutdown perimeter—NOAA Fisheries embraces a protective measure that is the equivalent of fighting a massive blaze with a water gun.

NOAA Fisheries’ ruling and the Navy’s training and testing cannot go unchallenged. Too much is at stake for California’s and Hawaii’s marine resources. NRDC has fought to protect whales and dolphins from dangerous sonar and underwater detonations for more than a decade and we’re not going to stop now.

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Comments

Joe landDec 16 2013 01:58 PM

Haven't we done enough damage to out oceans? It's time to fix problems before it's to late not make more.

Pam RobertsDec 16 2013 03:02 PM

Note: A US and a Chinese ship almost collided this week. How's that "lookout" thing going to work for ya there, NOAA Fisheries?

I'm going to guess that since marine mammals have relatively little commercial value, they are pretty much down the totem pole for protection efforts.

Do your job NOAA Fisheries and re-look that mountain of scientific evidence just sitting there. Better yet, put on your scuba gear and y'all take a dive in an active test area.


al garzaDec 16 2013 03:37 PM

The govt. has to become more environmentally sensitive towards the worlds wildlife when pursuing fatal activities on our most endangered creatures. The quality of the oceans is already causing them stress.

Kjell StrindholmDec 16 2013 04:16 PM

These waters are of interest even though I do not live there. The interest must be considered globally. The decision surprised me.

LisaDec 16 2013 05:30 PM

Man did not weave the thread of life he is merely a strand in it, whatever he does to the web he does to himself ~Chief Seattle ~

Marisol Schlemmer Dec 16 2013 06:03 PM

Is really sad, the killing of this mammals, we need to protected our nature our planet, that is the only house we are going to have !

deanna vandallDec 16 2013 06:40 PM

STOP THIS MURDERING OF MAMMALS.

lois DiwDec 16 2013 08:03 PM

It is not our mission in life to destroy the other living beings on our planet.

It is our duty to protect them.

Patricia WatsonDec 16 2013 11:30 PM

it is way sad that they do not care that they kill what is needed to make this world tick. All we seem to be capable of is destruction. REALLY, when are they going to learn that it is not worth the harm it creates. It helps nothing to do this. How long before there is nothing and it is because of this that we all perish?

Gregg Rosner Dec 16 2013 11:33 PM

A functional biophony is perhaps the most critical component of a healthy ocean environment. Not having the entire spectrum of sound, effects every form of aquatic life from fish larve, to the transoceanic communicators of the large baleen whales. Stupidity here trumps any rational discourse of scientific fact, and we are the lesser species
wandering future less into the next round of myoptic decisions. That would include the next bad policy
choice of approval for seismic testing for gas and oil reserves on the East Coast, Mid-Atlantic region early 2014.

Deborah AllenDec 16 2013 11:37 PM

Please stop this unnecessary testing on marine animals!

Lisa CelloplayerDec 17 2013 12:50 AM

I want to stop this testing, too!!

joy warrenDec 17 2013 10:28 AM

Truly lacking common sense. Leave nature unharmed.

DiggsterDec 17 2013 11:45 AM

ITS THE DEFENSE CONTRACTORS.
The Lobbyists, the politicians.....
The ladder to hell

Daniela PowellDec 17 2013 01:11 PM

Have humans not done enough damage to all wildlife around the globe yet?? Why can this not be stopped?? Are there no people with common sense in any of the official functions??

AmandaDec 19 2013 11:51 AM

This post would be much more effective, rather than simply being inflammatory, if it ever stated exactly what the permit entails rather than simply making allusions to possible practices and possible outcomes.

Comments are closed for this post.

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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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