Protecting Whales

Article excerpt

HONOLULU, Hawaii, United States (AP) - The US Navy may hurt more dolphins and whales by using sonar and explosives in Hawaii and California under a more thorough analysis that reflects new research and covers naval activities in a wider area than previous studies.

The Navy estimates its use of explosives and sonar may unintentionally cause more than 1,600 instances of hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals each year, according to a draft environmental impact statement that covers training and testing planned from 2014 to 2019. The Navy calculates the explosives could potentially kill more than 200 marine mammals a year.

A notice about the study is due to appear Friday in the Federal Register.

The old Navy analysis - covering 2009-2013 - estimated the service might unintentionally cause injury or death to about 100 marine mammals in Hawaii and California, although no deaths have been reported.

The larger numbers are partially the result of the Navy's use of new research on marine mammal behavior and updated computer models that predict how sonar affects animals.

The Navy also expanded the scope of its study to include things like in-port sonar testing - something sailors have long done but wasn't analyzed in the Navy's last environmental impact statement. The analysis covers training and testing in waters between Hawaii and California for the first time as well.

"Each time around, each time we swing through this process, we get better, we take a harder look, we become more inclusive," said John Van Name, senior environmental planner at the US Pacific Fleet.

The Navy isn't saying it will injure whales and dolphins as it trains sailors and tests equipment. It's telling the public and environmental regulators that its actions have the potential to harm or otherwise prompt a reaction in the animals. …