Imagine hearing a constant, loud, and piercing noise that you cannot escape from. That is what marine mammals, especially the Southern Resident orcas, will experience for the next seven years if the U.S. Navy is allowed to increase training, underwater explosions, and sonar testing in Washington waters.
Please join Friends of the San Juans in commenting to the National Marine Fisheries Service and urge them to change its preliminary determination of “negligible impact” and require additional mitigation measures to significantly reduce harm to Southern Resident orcas.
Recently, the Navy requested the National Marine Fisheries Service to “take” marine mammals incidental to training and testing activities in the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area in Washington. “Take” as defined under the Endangered Species Act means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Incidental take is an unintentional, but not unexpected, taking.
The National Marine Fisheries Service rule on incidental take from Navy activities would increase training and testing that will negatively impact orcas for the next seven years without sufficient protections. After the environmental community commented on the draft that the Navy was not using current information on where Southern Resident orcas spend time, the Navy amended its application to increase numbers of “Level B” harassment from 2 to 51 orcas. Level B harassment means it interferes with breeding, nursing, and foraging.
However, the Navy did not add any additional mitigation measures, even though these incidents could impact 68% of the Southern Resident orcas every year. The National Marine Fisheries Service also found that this Level B harassment would have negligible impact on this critical population of only 72 individuals. These are not inconsequential impacts to a highly endangered orca population.
Orcas need quieter waters in an increasingly noisy world to effectively communicate with one another, to forage for food, to nurse their young, to breed, and to migrate. Monitoring by NOAA indicates that both Southern Resident and Northern Resident orcas would be present off the coast of Washington in the same months as Navy exercises would occur. Just one incident of training and testing activities can cause significant harm, death, or displacement from their preferred habitat.
In a time when we should be acting to decrease threats to the Southern Resident orcas, the Navy’s proposed activities will increase life-threatening impacts. The Navy can and should change its practices to accommodate this endangered species.