US Navy Permitted to Kill and Injure Millions of Marine Wildlife in the Pacific

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In a five-year period, the US Navy kills and injures close to 12 million whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions and other marine wildlife in the North Pacific Ocean—legally, according to a report for Truthout by Dahr Jamail. The West Coast Action Alliance (WCAA)—an organization that works with groups and organizations all over the country to help protect the nation’s National and State Parks, airspace over communities, and our waters—has worked to provide data from the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement (EIS) as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 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, which can span from harassment resulting in behavioral changes to death. Currently, the Navy is permitted 12 million takes—not including those in the Gulf of Alaska. The Navy’s October 2015 EIS showed substantial increases in a large number of detrimental activities, including a 778 percent increase in their number of torpedoes, a 1,150 percent increase in drone air crafts, and introduction of sonar usage in inland waters at 284 events. Sonar devices use sound waves to detect or communicate with objects underwater. The human limit for hearing a given noise without damage is 85 decibels; Navy sonar devices operate at a minimum of 235 decibels. Note that sound volume measured in decibels is not linear: The severity of noise increases ten times for every 10 decibels—with 140 decibels being enough to rupture internal organs.

With little oversight on the Navy’s activities, the public is left in the dark regarding their environmental and health impacts, including how Navy operations impact fish in the North Pacific, and marine life at the bottom of the food chain. A small portion of marine species that are known to have been impacted by these events include humpback whale, sperm whale, killer whale, California sea lion, sea otter, and the northern elephant seal. Over half of those listed are endangered species. A solution that would allow the Navy to continue their tests to ensure military readiness is to allow civilian observers who are knowledgeable on migration patterns and seabird identification. The Navy currently does not allow expert civilians or US Fish and Wildlife officials on board to monitor impacts during training exercises. Instead, the Navy uses an old-fashioned lookout method—which has clearly been proven to be quite ineffective.

There has been little coverage on an issue that poses such a threat to our marine population, which in consequence effects the human population. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a response in September 2015 to the settlement made in Hawaii and Southern California that supposedly is set to protect the habitats of marine mammal wildlife in those two areas. The settlement establishes protection of certain habitats by limiting sonar use and explosive testing in areas that are vital to marine life reproduction, feeding, and migration. However, this settlement is set to expire in 2018. Earth Justice covered the same settlement in November 2015, adding important background information on why limiting testing activities is important.

Source: Dahr Jamail, “Navy Allowed to Kill or Injure Nearly 12 Million Whales, Dolphins, Other Marine Mammals in Pacific”, Truthout, May 16, 2016,

Student Researcher: Nora Kasapligil (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Elaine Wellin (Sonoma State University)