WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Navy may harass 94 marine mammal species with sonar, incidental to military training exercises, under a plan tentatively approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the NMFS may allow incidental “take” during military preparedness activities of otherwise protected species.
The plan would allow the Navy to deploy its Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active sonar during training activities in most of the world’s oceans except Arctic and Antarctic waters.
Sonar – which sends sound waves through the water – can injure or disrupt the natural behavior of marine mammals including migration,
surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, “to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered,” according to the NMFS.
The Navy agreed to mitigate physical injury to protected species by stopping sonar transmissions when it detects a marine mammal within the active range of its transmissions and will post visual monitors to look for animals an additional kilometer beyond that.
SURTASS uses a string of arrays towed behind a ship at depths of up to about 400 feet, which send out “pings” of sound between 100 Hz and 500 Hz, and a passive array to detect reflections of those pings off of underwater objects.
According to a 2007 environmental impact statement issued by the Navy, the impact of the use of four SURTASS systems world wide on marine mammals is “negligible” at the species level.The public has until Feb. 6, to comment on the NMFS’s proposed approval of the takings.