An article that recently appeared in the New York Times discussed a project led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to analyze and map underwater sounds in the ocean and determine the locations and densities of marine mammals.
The U.S. Navy is a key contributor to this effort, in terms of funding as well as participation by our marine scientists. We see the project as a great start for managing ocean sound and understanding the effects, and hope to see it continue to grow with collaboration from other research-focused organizations.
Recognizing the complexity of the ocean issues, the wide range of species, and the diverse needs of the stakeholders involved, it is vital that the maps and data that result from this work be based on the best quality science.
The Times article also mentions sonar as one of many sources of manmade sound in the ocean that can affect marine life, and cites general estimates of the numbers of marine mammals that may be affected by Navy at-sea training and testing activities.
It is important to recognize that these numbers are based on a mathematical model that calculates absolute worst-case scenarios that are highly unlikely to occur. While there have been isolated cases where small numbers of marine mammals have stranded as a result of sonar exposure, there has been no evidence of harm to large numbers of marine mammals from Navy activities despite decades of training and testing in a similar manner.
The Navy employs NOAA-approved protective measures every time sonar is used, reducing the likelihood that marine mammals will be affected. These protective measures are contained in permits issued by NOAA, and the permits can only be issued if the covered activity will have no more than a negligible impact on protected marine mammal species or stocks.
The Navy is a world leader in marine mammal research, dedicating over $100 million during the past five years to improve knowledge of how marine mammals hear, where they live, and how they are affected by sound. In combination with NOAA-led ocean sound mapping and marine density analysis projects, and other science initiatives, it is our hope that such research will eventually lead to a more comprehensive understanding of mankind’s effects on marine life.
The Navy is and will continue to be a responsible steward of the environment both ashore and at sea—and conduct training and testing that is essential for carrying out our national security mission.
For more information about the Navy’s energy, environmental and climate change initiatives, click here.
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