The U.S. Navy said it is testing sonar devices and explosives off the coast of California and Hawaii, which could potentially injure or kill marine animals such as dolphins and whales.
The Navy’s draft environmental impact statement in the region, which was released in a study last week, estimates that testing of sonar and explosives may unintentionally cause more than 1,600 cases of injury or hearing loss to sea mammals between 2014 and 2019. The training and testing of explosives will possibly kill around 1,000 animals in the same time period.
However, a spokesperson said that the actual number of marine animal deaths will be much lower.
“Those are worst-case scenarios,” Navy environmental planner Cory Scott told the Orange County Register on Friday. “That’s if we did nothing.”
Alex Stone, the project manager for the Navy’s environmental impact agency, added that the study’s “numbers are predictions that do not account for any of the mitigation measures. We don’t really expect those impacts to occur.”
The Navy has been able to do testing over several decades without severely impacting nearby marine life, Stone added.
“We have been training and testing off Southern California for 50 or 60 years,” Stone said. “We have some of the largest concentrations of marine mammals right where the Navy does its training with underwater sonar.”
Critics, however, have said that too many whales and dolphins will be affected, citing the study’s figures.
Zak Smith, with the National Resources Defense Council, a conservation group, said that “whales and dolphins will be harmed more than 14 million times,” with around 2 million of those incidents causing temporary and permanent hearing loss.
Smith pointed out that just five years ago, the Navy’s study on the impact of its training only showed that marine animals would be harmed 770,000 times.
“Temporary hearing loss is an incredibly serious issue for animals that use hearing the way we use sight and, in a similar vein, it’s likely game over for any whales or dolphins that suffer permanent hearing loss,” Smith said.
The Navy has an increased awareness of how much damage it does to marine animals due to advances in research. But, Smith added, “it hasn’t taken any corresponding steps to minimize this staggering level of harm.”
The Navy should create parts of its training areas where it will not test explosives and sonar as large as the size of states, Smith added.
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