#7 The Toll of US Navy Training on Wildlife in the North Pacific

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

US Navy training activities are deadly for marine mammals in the North Pacific. In a five-year period, the US Navy has killed, injured, or harassed whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and other marine wildlife in the North Pacific Ocean nearly twelve million times—legally, according to a report for Truthout by Dahr Jamail. The West Coast Action Alliance (WCAA), a coalition that aims to protect the nation’s national and state parks, airspace, and waters, combined data from the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Letter of Authorization for the number of “takes” of marine mammals caused by Navy exercises. A “take” is a type of harm to an animal, with impacts ranging from harassment, resulting in behavioral changes, to death.

The WCAA found that, over a five-year period, the US Navy has been responsible for more than 11.8 million takes of marine mammal species in four North Pacific areas of operation, a figure that Karen Sullivan, a WCAA spokesperson and former endangered species biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, described as “staggering.”

The Navy currently does not allow expert civilians or US Fish and Wildlife officials on board their vessels to monitor impacts during training exercises. Instead, Jamail wrote, “the ‘technology’ the Navy uses to ensure whether marine mammals are present in the vicinity of their exercises is the same ‘technology’ that has been used since the 17th century—two lookouts at the bow of the ship.” Emily Stolarcyk, program manager of the Eyak Preservation Council in Cordova, Alaska, told Truthout, “With the limited observation practiced, the Navy’s activities have proved lethal to large marine species. What about the unknown impacts?” As a WCAA report noted, the 11.8 million reported takes do not include impacts on “endangered and threatened seabirds, fish, sea turtles or terrestrial species” due to Navy activities.

As Jamail reported, the Navy’s October 2015 environmental impact statement showed substantial increases in a large number of detrimental training activities, including a 778 percent increase in the number of torpedoes launched in inland waters, a 400 percent increase in air-to-surface missile exercises (including some within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary), and 284 sonar testing events in inland waters. Sonar disrupts marine mammals’ abilities to use echolocation to find food, putting them at risk of malnutrition or starvation.

With little oversight on Navy training activities, the public is left in the dark regarding their environmental impacts, including especially how Navy operations impact fish in the North Pacific and marine life at the bottom of the food chain. There has been almost no coverage of these impacts in the corporate press. In July 2016, the Washington Post reported on a federal appeals court ruling in San Francisco, which found that the Navy’s use of loud, low-frequency sonar had violated marine mammal protection laws.

Dahr Jamail, “Navy Allowed to Kill or Injure Nearly 12 Million Whales, Dolphins, Other Marine Mammals in Pacific,” Truthout, May 16, 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36037-the-us-navy-s-mass-destruction-of-marine-life.

Student Researcher: Nora Kasapligil (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Elaine Wellin (Sonoma State University)