Conservation groups challenge National Marine Fisheries Service proposal that would expose whales and dolphins to missile and bomb testing in the ocean

On behalf of conservation groups, Earthjustice sent a letter early this week to the National Marine Fisheries Service objecting to proposed regulations that would allow the U.S. Air Force to injure marine mammals while testing long-range missiles and bombs off the island of Kaua‘i. The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the Fisheries Service to insist that the Air Force do everything it reasonably can to avoid harm to Hawai‘i’s whales and dolphins.

 

The testing, which involves hundreds of missiles and bombs detonating in the ocean over the next five years, could harm a number of whale and dolphin species, including endangered sei whales, humpback whales, dwarf sperm whales, pygmy sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins and striped dolphins. The proposed regulations would allow testing that results in temporary or permanent hearing loss and harassment that causes marine mammals to abandon or significantly alter behaviors essential to survival, such as breeding, feeding, resting and communicating with their young.

The comment letter, written by Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, objects to the Air Force’s proposal to use only aerial surveys to determine whether marine mammals are in the target area before bombs and missiles are dropped. The Fisheries Service’s own studies show that aerial surveys are likely to spot dwarf sperm whales — the marine mammal for which the Service proposes to authorize the highest amount of harm from the proposed training — less than 8 percent of the time.

“Even in the best conditions, aerial surveys do a poor job of detecting whether there are marine mammals in the target area,” said Henkin. “In rough sea conditions, they are practically worthless.”

The letter urges the Service to require the Air Force to supplement its aerial surveys with real-time monitoring of marine mammal locations using the existing hydrophone network at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, which can detect whether whales and dolphins hidden from view may be in the target area.

The letter also faults the Service for failing to require adequate monitoring to ensure that marine mammals are not seriously injured or killed by the missile tests.

Earthjustice submitted the comments on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Mammal Institute.

Read the comments here