Navy SONAR Testing

U.S. Navy Hawaii Training and Testing Expected to Injure and Kill Thousands of Marine Mammals


UPDATE (4/6/2015): Hawai'i Federal Judge rules that the Natioanl Marine Fisheries Service acted illegally in approving testing and training activities by the US Navy in the Pacific Ocean. The US Navy's Draft Environmental Impact Statement estimated that testing would directly injure or kill thousands of marine mammals.  Read more >


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Campaign Background

Under its own estimates, the Navy concludes that future sonar testing off the coasts of California and Hawai’i will annually kill at least 200 marine mammals, in addition to causing hearing loss in more than 1,600 marine mammals.

For decades, the U.S. Navy has utilized the marine habitats off the Southern California Coast and around the Hawaiian Islands as training grounds for military operations and testing sites for weapon and reconnaissance technology.  Not only strategically located within the Pacific Ocean, these areas represent ideal training grounds based on their climate, distinct setting, and proximity to major bases. 

Given these factors, and citing its duty to retain freedom of the seas, the Navy desires to continue testing in these critical areas, and is in the process of seeking a 5 year permit (2014-2019) from National Marine Fisheries Service that will allow it to proceed with planned training activities.  Beginning in July 2010, the U.S. Navy issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement regarding its proposed activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area, activities which include the use of active SONAR and live explosives.  Click here for information and visuals related to the affected area.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law in 1970, requires all Federal agencies (e.g. the U.S. Navy) to consider the environmental impacts of its proposed actions.  The NEPA process highly involved, and requires the collaboration and input of multiple stakeholders, including the public.  Once a Notice of Intent is released, the agency must then compile a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).  Compilation of a DEIS not only forces the Navy to examine the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental impacts of its proposed activities, but also acts as a forum for public comment.

Released on May 11, 2012 for a 60 day public comment period, the Navy’s DEIS detailed proposed training operations, and analyzed the possible impacts of these operations on the marine environment.     

While the Navy ensured it would take steps to mitigate harmful impacts, ocean lovers around the world were alarmed by the fact that thousands of dolphins and whales are expected to be significantly injured or disturbed throughout the course of the training operations. 

With direct concern to marine mammals, the Navy analyzed stressors such as acoustics (SONAR), energy (electromagnetic), physical disturbance (e.g. ship strikes), entanglement, and ingestion.  Under the scenario labeled “Alternative 2”, for example, SONAR and acoustic sources alone are expected to expose marine mammals up to 2,524,784 times per year to sound levels that are considered “disturbing”, and up to 441 times per year to sound levels that would be considered to cause injury. 

Although marine mammal stand to be the most affected by the proposed operations, coral reef and kelp forest ecosystems, fish species, marine invertebrates, sea birds, sea turtles and water quality all stand to be impacted. 

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