Tag Archives: nmfs

Hear Ear-splitting Navy Sonar, and Watch the Orca Whales Respond

From Beautiful Whale Courtesy of Beautiful Whale
Imagine that you are walking down a city street at night – suddenly an ear-splitting siren goes off and simultaneously you find yourself in pitch black darkness, so dark that you can’t see your hands in front of your face or find your companions. What would you do? Most likely, if you knew how you would run for where you thought you could find light to see, and away from the noise.
Similarly, when loud noise from sonar or seismic surveys suddenly goes off, whales and dolphins have no ability to “see” since their sonar is useless, so they panic and head for the surface – often separated from pod members and calves. And sometimes they destroy their hearing apparatus and body tissues in the process.
Warning – this noise is loud and it is recommended that you turn the volume down if you are listening on earphones. 

A Navy destroyer, the USS Shoup, was using active sonar as part of an exercise in Haro Strait, generating pulses of 140 decibels or more. That’s as loud as standing near a fighter jet during take-off.
In the following days, at least 10 harbor porpoises were found dead in the area, some with blood coming from their heads. Some frozen bodies were sent for analysis, but it couldn’t be conclusively determined if the sonar contributed to the deaths.
For Ken Balcomb, it felt like deja vu. Three years earlier, he’d studied a mass stranding of dolphins following a Navy sonar exercise in the Bahamas. Balcomb says he suspected the intense pressure of the sonar pulses played a role.
Balcomb explained, “So I collected and froze heads and took them to Harvard Medical School and we CAT scanned them and showed they had hemorrhagic damage in the brain and ears.” (OPR, see below).


While the event involving J-pod of the Southern Resident orcas occurred a few years ago and the Navy no longer uses this type of sonar when the orcas are present in the Salish Sea, Navy exercises using loud sonar and explosives still go on anywhere in the ocean where safeguards are not in place. In spite of the best available science that shows the negative impact of these activities on marine life, in December the National Marine Fisheries Service approved the Navy’s request for a permit that appears to be in violation of the law.
At the end of February 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Navy.  “Court documents can be found here, where it is stated:

In authorizing the Navy’s training and testing activities, the Service and the
Navy have committed these and other specific violations of the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the
Administrative Procedure Act.

The lawsuit clearly says that the NRDC does not seek to stop the military from essential practice, but instead want to see that strong mitigation measures are implemented.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been in court for several years, trying to force the government to put stricter limits on the Navy’s use of sonar in coastal waters where whales are present. Smith points to documents in which the Navy concedes that, despite its efforts to avoid harm, it expects to impact marine mammals hundreds of thousands of times over the five-year permit period. He says that shows the effect of the Navy’s safety measures is limited.
Smith explained, “And that limitation is, it only really works to limit the most serious harm.”
Smith says the number of whales and other marine mammals outright killed or permanently deafened may be decreased by the lookouts and other Navy precautions, but other impacts that damage the animals’ ability to feed or reproduce won’t.
Smith said, “Temporary hearing loss will continue, behavioral disruption will continue, and their lookout regime doesn’t do anything to limit that.”
Smith says the Navy should be restricted from using sonar during times of the year when seasonal migrations bring concentrations of whales into coastal waters.
The Navy is holding a series of public meetings on the environmental impact statement for the Northwest Training and Testing Area. Meetings will be held in communities from Oak Harbor, Washington to Fort Bragg California.

Although the public meetings were few and far between (remaining meetings are listed below), you can still express your thoughts. Please remember to use logical and provable points, and make comments here – the deadline for comment is March 25.

(From Oregon Public Broadcasting  (OPR)-  full audio is below.)

Open House Information Sessions: 5-8 p.m. Navy Presentation: 6:30 p.m.
Monday, March 3, 2014 Astoria High School Student Commons, 1001 W. Marine Drive Astoria, OR
Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym 825 NE 7th St., Newport, OR
Thursday, March 6, 2014, Red Lion Hotel Redwood Ballroom, 1929 4th St.Eureka, CA
Friday, March 7, 2014, Redwood Coast Senior Center West Room, 490 N. Harold St., Fort Bragg, CA

Lolita, the Wild Southern Resident Killer Whale Living in Captivity May Receive Protected Status, Government Announces Today (4/24/13)

(Orca Network)
(Orca Network)

Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it will consider whether or not the captive orca Lolita (Tokitae) should be allowed the same protection as her wild family. Originally she was purposefully excluded from the protection of the endangered status that the rest of her family enjoys ( Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal Quagmire). This decision is good news, and now once again it is time to correspond and sign petitions. The release from NMFS:

Petition To Include The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales

Apr. 24, 2013: We accepted a petition to include the captive killer whale known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Southern Resident killer whales. We are soliciting scientific and commercial information about Lolita’s status to ensure that our ongoing status review is comprehensive. Acceptance of this petition doesn’t presuppose any particular outcome. The comment period closes Jun. 28, 2013. See the Federal Register notice and other materials below for more information; or contact Lynne Barre, 206-526-4745.
The Federal Register notice will publish on Monday, April 29, 2013 and at that time people can submit comments via Regulations.gov.   In the “Search” box, enter the docket number, “NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056” and click on the “Search” button.


Orca Whales May Lose Endangered Species Status – NOAA Accepted Petition to De-list This Struggling Population

Update 12/7/12: Orca Network’s Howard Garrett fully addresses this subject in the following post that follows this one, Southern Resident Orcas are Targeted by Those Who Want to Demolish the Endangered Species Act Entirely – Orca Network Weighs in on This Issue
Update 11/30/12:  Please sign the Change.org petition against de-listing the orcas here: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: Deny the petition to remove orcas from the endangered Species List.

Southern Resident orca population may lose their endangered species status. (Center for Whale Research).

From NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration):
“Killer Whale Petition: Today we announced that we accepted a petition to delist Southern Resident killer whales, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. We’ll begin a review to determine the population’s ESA status, and are soliciting scientific and commercial information about these whales to ensure that the status review is comprehensive. The petition presents new information from scientific journal articles about killer whale genetics, addressing issues such as how closely related this small population is to other populations, and meets NOAA Fisheries’ standard for accepting a petition to review. Acceptance of this petition doesn’t presuppose any particular outcome.
We’ll consider and address all substantive information on it received by Jan. 28, 2013.

See our website at http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Whales-Dolphins-Porpoise/Killer-Whales/ESA-Status/delist.cfm for details.”

The petition was filed on behalf of the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability (CESAR), a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific rigor in environmental regulations.
Also represented are two farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley, whose access to water for agriculture is threatened by the unjustified ESA listing of the Orca. This is because water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are threatened as a result of an ESA biological opinion that was issued for the Orca along with several species of fish, including salmon and steelhead, that are part of the Orca’s food supply and that are found in the Delta.
The bottom line is that developers, farmers, and commercial fisheries feel that their rights should supersede the welfare of a fragile population of orcas – and it is unfathomable that NOAA is actually taking the petition seriously.

I am on vacation and can’t give this topic the depth of coverage that it deserves, so will let you know when my colleagues have tackled the subject.  In the meanwhile, please take the time to read the petition!