Incidental take of marine mammals authorized during Navy training

Newly approved final authorization for Pacific exercises in effect through December 2023

Federal officials have authorized the incidental “take” of marine mammals during Navy training and testing exercises in the Pacific.

Acting Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Timothy Gallaudet said on Dec. 20 that the final authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act balanced the Navy’s conservation requirements for marine mammals with its critical national security requirements.

This is the third in a series of five-year incidental take regulations for the Navy’s Hawaii-Southern California training and testing activities, and according to NOAA these final regulations are more protective and include a larger area than those in the proposed or previous regulations.

“This is a win-win for marine mammal protection and national defense,” Gallaudet said.

The final authorization will be in effect through December 2023.

NOAA’s action drew a quick response from the Center for Biological Diversity, which contends that under these new final authorizations Navy training exercises in the Pacific Ocean over the next five years could kill, injure or harass whales, dolphins and other marine mammals 12.5 million times.

According to the non-profit environmental entity, explosions, sonar and ship strikes during Navy exercises could harm blue whales 9,248 times over the next five years and the short-beaked common dolphin 6.6 million times under the incidental take permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The Trump administration is doing disturbingly little to reduce the enormous number of whale and dolphins harmed by these explosions, sonar and ship strikes,” said Miyiko Sakashita, ocean program director at the Center for Biodiversity. “We don’t need to inflict this catastrophic damage to marine mammals to keep ourselves safe.”

The permits also anticipate injuries to 3,346 marine mammals, including three endangered blue whales, 20 humpback whales, 10 minke whales, 93 California long-beaked dolphins, 46 Risso’s dolphins, three critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals and 480 northern elephant seals, center officials said.

NOAA officials said that under authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, NMFS evaluates the predicted effects of human activities on protected marine species and may require other agencies and entities to modify their activities to reduce those effects.

The agency also said it is imposing stringent mitigation measures expected to reduce adverse impacts to marine mammals and their habitats, including waiting for animals to leave the training range prior to use of in-water explosives, and monitoring the area port-activity to detect potentially affected protected species.