Environmental group asks navy to review operations after Australian ship kills whales
Nonprofit environmental group calls on the US Navy to re-examine the impacts of its operations in the Eastern Pacific on marine life after an Australian destroyer kills two endangered fin whales while training with them US ships, according to a press release.
The bodies of the two whales – one 65 feet long, the other 25 feet – were found stranded in the bow of the Australian destroyer Sydney when it entered Naval Base San Diego on May 8. .
In a letter advising civilian leaders of the Pentagon and Navy of its intention to sue, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service to re-examine the impacts of naval operations between Hawaii and southern California. According to the nonprofit, the Navy is required by endangered species law to review its activities.
Kristen Monsell, senior counsel for the center, said the incident was proof of the harm the Navy can do to endangered marine life.
“I think it’s a pretty grim and tragic reminder of the harm naval activities can do to endangered marine mammals,” Monsell said. “Unfortunately, this is nothing new – we have long known that training activities can cause a host of problems for marine life.”
In addition to the risk of collision with ships, sonar can adversely affect the feeding behaviors of whales, Monsell said.
The Navy has been the subject of legal action in the past for its operations in this part of the Pacific. In 2013, the center sued the Navy for its training in the same part of the Pacific – known as the “Hawaii-Southern California for Training and Testing” corridor. Monsell said the center won that lawsuit and in a settlement the Navy agreed to implement some mitigation measures to protect marine life.
By law, the service must periodically seek and receive approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service to operate in areas where wildlife is endangered. In 2018, the Navy entered into a new five-year Fisheries Service license for its training operations. The new deal was less onerous for the service than the one it agreed to in its settlement, Monsell said.
That five-year license was extended to seven years in 2020, according to Commander Sean Robertson, spokesperson for the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet. In an email, Robertson said the Navy was taking routine precautions to avoid harming whales and other marine life.
“Whenever the US Navy trains and / or conducts testing, it uses protective measures that have been developed in coordination with NOAA Fisheries,” said Robertson. “These measures include using qualified lookouts, reducing power or shutting down active sonar transmissions when marine mammals are within a predetermined safe range; establishing safe zones around detonations; and maneuvering ships to avoid marine mammals (and) endangered species. “
Robertson also said the incident with the Australian ship was still under investigation and that “we do not have the facts as to when and where the strike may have taken place.”
Monsell said Navy precautions were not enough. She said the service’s mitigation plan did not take due account of the service’s relatively new ships and unmanned aircraft and that it should reconsider their impacts on endangered species. She also said there was evidence that speeds of 10 knots or less significantly reduce collisions with ships and that the Navy should impose a strict speed limit in biologically important areas and critical habitats.
“All of this new information shows that (the Navy’s mitigations) are not enough,” Monsell said. “We ask them to re-evaluate it and adopt it further.”
Robertson said the Navy had not increased operations in the corridor since its last permits were issued in 2018 and that whale strikes – which the service is required to track – are rare.
“No whales or dolphins were killed as a result of Navy activities during the current HSTT permit, and since 2007 there have only been two collisions with US Navy vessels in the study area. of HSTT, “said Robertson.
The area is home to a wide variety of animals, Monsell said, including endangered blue whales, fin whales and Hawaiian monk seals. It is an active breeding and feeding area for animals – activities that make them vulnerable to collisions with ships.
John Calambokidis, a leading expert on West Coast ship collisions, told the Union-Tribune last week that strikes are significantly underreported and that studies show that large whale species, such as than blue and fins, generally do not react to approaching vessels.
This article is written by Andrew Dyer of the Union-Tribune of San Diego and has been legally licensed by the content agency Tribune through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
View full article
© Copyright 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.