Posts Tagged ‘Navy’

Navy touts its own horn for sonar testing and marine mammal takes

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Last month, the Navy received reauthorization for three of its marine mammal “incidental take” permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). Basically, these are permits to harass marine mammals for specific purposes allowable under the MMPA and ESA. Before you get your britches in a knot, you need to realize that ALL marine mammal researchers are required to obtain such authorizations when attempting to closely approach their subjects. I worked under one, my friends worked under them, and—for the most part—execution and enforcement of the terms of such permits are strictly adhered to.

According to yesterday’s press release from the Navy, their reauthorizations of the so-called "Big Three" represent ocean sites where "roughly 80 percent of active sonar training … takes place on established training ranges and operating areas." Now, here’s the part where you can get knotted. The Navy refers to this action (the reauthorization of their incidental take permits) as "an environmental accomplishment."

Hmm. The last time I checked, an environmental accomplishment was a positive action taken on behalf of our abiotic and biotic surroundings. Seeing the government’s approval of sonar testing as a positive action on behalf of the environment is quite the stretch, oh Naval colleagues. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The Navy gets a lot of bad press when it comes to its testing of low- and mid-frequency sonar and its effects on marine mammals. So we can’t really blame them for spinning this dubious news in a positive light. Let’s just hope that they keep up the accurate reporting of marine mammal injuries and other “takes” during their testing exercises.

whale tail

Stock photo by Jon Sullivan

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NOAA pushes Navy to stop sonar testing at marine mammal hot spots

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has acknowledged the link between certain types of sonar and negative impacts on marine mammals, including death. In an letter to the Council on Environmental Quality last week, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco proposed that marine mammal "hot spots"—areas where marine mammals are in high abundance—become off limits to mid-frequency active sonar testing. (Lubchenco is, by the way, the first woman AND the first marine ecologist to lead NOAA. Huzzah!)

According to this LA Times blog post, NOAA is also calling for a process to estimate the "comprehensive sound budget for the oceans." This is a huge step in developing a plan to protect marine species that rely on underwater communication. It’s critical, too, in light of the new findings that link ocean acidification with the decreased transmission of underwater sound (see this recent post.)

The letter from Lubchenco to the CEQ is available here (PDF).

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Cows of the sea

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

by Hilary L. Maybaum

I just can’t get excited about manatees. For one thing, they don’t do much except munch sea grass and reproduce.

Manatee photo

Because of their place in the food chain, some people refer to manatees as "cows of the sea." To me, they are more like amoebae, slow-moving and blobby.


There are no great displays of aggression or emotion, no jaw-dropping feeding methods, just… a bunch of sea potatoes hanging around the subtropics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yes, they’re cute, in an ugly sort of way. I know, I know, they’re endangered and for that reason alone I should be interested. Oddly, I’m not.

I do, however, perk up at any mention of military/marine-mammal conflict. So when Peter Kobel (@TheEcoist) pointed out this recent L.A. Times article on a pending manatee habitat ruling, I sat up and took notice.

The U.S. Navy is balking at the proposed expansion of manatee "critical habitat" in Florida and southern Georgia. The proposal stems from an organized group of environmental advocates who state a compelling case for expansion. The Navy’s position is that more habitat for the manatees will mean less habitat for submarines and other forms of military defense.

The Navy claims to "coexist with various endangered species" and to "do all kinds of things" to help protect them. To a large extent, this is true. I have worked as an environmental consultant on many Navy contracts, and can personally vouch for their stewardship. The Navy does conduct marine-mammal surveys when needed; for example, on Environmental Impact Assessments and the like. However, I also know that the Navy, in general, prefers the conclusions of such assessments to match their a priori assumptions.

Now it is up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a ruling. What should they decide? If it were me, I’d say that each side needs to give a little bit. Yes, folks, I’m advocating the C-word: compromise. Given that the manatee population numbers less than 4,000, and their habitat designation has not been reviewed since the 1970s, it seems they are due some additional area. For decades, manatees have sacrificed their lives and health for Floridians’ well being. Those gentle personalities put them in harm’s way far too often; is it not time for some payback? On the other hand, we are (lest we forget) a nation at war, and we need to maintain a strong defense system, at least for now.

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