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Imagine experiencing a noise so loud that it could cause not only disorientation, but also physical trauma and brain bleeding, as well as bubbles that form in your organs. This is a very real possibility for thousands of whales and dolphins exposed to US Navy training and testing. The Navy recently released a report containing data from two environmental impact studies which confirm suspicions that testing could have devastating consequences for marine mammals off the U.S. east coast, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and southern California between 2014 and 2019.
The Navy conducted their research in preparation for an application to the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow testing in these waters. By the Navy’s estimations, their live simulations could kill 186 whales and dolphins off of the east coast, and 155 near Hawaii and southern California. Serious injuries for mammals off the east coast could number upwards of 11,267 with 1.89 million minor problems. Changes in behavior, such as disorientation and swimming in the wrong direction, are estimated to reach 20 million occurrences. For southern California and Hawaii, serious injuries are projected to hit 2,039, minor injuries, while 7.7 million instances of behavioral shifts are expected.
According to Phys.org, some are skeptical of the Navy’s internal estimations. NRDC policy analyst Micheal Jasny points to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that shows even mid-frequency noises disrupt feeding patterns in baleen whales and could negatively affect entire populations. The NRDC cites numerous mass strandings on beaches after sonar has been used, including 200 beached melon-headed whales in 2004 off the coast of Hawaii.
Earlier this year, the Navy rejected the California Coastal Commission’s suggestion to limit their sonar training – even during times when certain marine mammals are known to be present. Military officials maintain that their precautions are sufficient. For their part, the CCC ruled unanimously against the Navy in March to complete their training program saying that the military did not have adequate information concerning their potential impact and that they were underestimating their figures. There has been a long history of disagreement between the parties, including lawsuits and federal intervention. It remains to be seen whether the newest study will be approved on the national level.