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Anti-submarine Warfare Training Kills Marine Life

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The US Navy's mission is to protect the United States. To do so the Navy is planning to expand ongoing anti-submarine training exercises in Admiralty Inlet off Whidbey Island, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast out 200 miles, off Oregon and down to Eureka California, and off Southern California, the east coast and off Hawaii. The dilemma before us is that these live-fire and sonar exercises inevitably injure and kill marine life, including endangered whales and salmon. Sailors learn to deploy minefields, explosive ordnance and sonars, leading to irreparable harm to marine mammals and fisheries and the potential release of hazardous materials into sensitive marine ecosystems.

We are especially concerned that the NW training area includes waters known to be traveled by endangered Southern Resident orcas, as well as their essential food source, endangered Chinook salmon, and 27 other cetacean species and uncountable other marine life. Of course there are many other insults and onslaughts killing the oceans, but Navy training is under direct government control in our democracy.

The Navy cites the threat posed by silent diesel/electric subs, but minimizes the significant sacrifice of marine life from realistic training to kill subs. We are presented with this choice: Do we value national defense against potential enemy subs above protection of marine life? There is every reason to believe that any adversary will conduct similar exercises, likely with fewer environmental safeguards, resulting in an arms race spiraling out of control and utter devastation of marine mammals, fish, birds and turtles in a wide variety of marine ecosystems, unless and until accords are reached to end this form of warfare.

A major flaw in the Navy's EIS is that the mitigation measures described will not reliably detect cetaceans in most instances, in part because the mammals themselves often attempt to avoid detection by mammal-eating transient killer whales. Transient orcas, in turn, are adept at evading detection by their wary prey. We are well acquainted with the difficulty of finding orcas even when we know they must be nearby. Detection would be especially difficult in typical high seas weather during erratic vessel activities in the midst of simulated warfare.

Beaked whales and sperm whales often remain below the surface for more than an hour. Blue and fin whales can travel miles in silence beneath the surface. Thousands of gray whales travel the entire length of the training range twice yearly, and hundreds spend their summers there. Offshore orcas frequent the edge of the continental shelf and travel across the wide Pacific, and transiting humpbacks, minkes and dolphins may be found close to shore or far out at sea. All are often obscured by high winds and wave troughs when they surface to breathe.

Improved mitigations would help avoid harming whales and dolphins, but given that detection is highly problematic and there is no part of the marine environment that is devoid of marine mammals, fish, turtles and birds, any mitigations are only better by degrees. In addition, the Navy has back-pedaled from at least partial compliance with court-ordered mitigations in California, apparently concluding that such mitigations detract from realistic training. The Navy agreed to avoid using sonar in Washington's inland waters, but we saw on April 8th how those agreements can be ignored when the USS San Francisco tested sonars near Dungeness Spit at harmful levels, demonstrating that the Navy holds training and testing at a higher priority than safety of marine mammals.

In light of that dilemma, we believe the Navy should observe all due cautions while their mission is adapted to evolving global relationships. The Obama administration is already hard at work to foster direct communications, improve relationships and enhance cooperation to solve global problems. These initiatives deserve our whole-hearted support and participation for a whole host of reasons, including the need to protect marine life from the effects of these training exercises.

We ask for more stringent mitigation measures in the short term, while global treaties to ban silent submarine warfare are implemented. The very concept may seem impossible and unthinkable, and the opposition to curtailing the US fleet is predictable, but the alternative to reaching international accords is an almost certain decimation of marine life worldwide. Decades ago the nuclear test ban was reached to avoid destroying our atmosphere. Treaties to ban at least silent submarine warfare would avoid destroying the marine environment.
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After growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, I came of age as a student at UC Berkeley 1965-1968. I prefered not to kill people in black pajamas defending their own back yard so I skipped around Canada, Europe and Asia till Nixon quietly dropped (more...)
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Anti-submarine Warfare Training Kills Marine Life

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