WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S Navy will be allowed to harass marine mammals incidentally while testing sonar systems and operating unmanned submarines in the waters off the state of Washington.
The activity is to take place at the Naval Sea Systems Command Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Range Complex.
Twenty-four species and subspecies of whale either live in or pass through the complex as do two species of seals and sea lions protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Navy expects no harm to come to any marine mammals, but admits that sonar may affect the behavior of some mammals including temporary loss of hearing sensitivity.
According to the Navy, almost all of the sonar testing at the Keyport Range will be with high frequency signals. The NMFS says that because high frequency signals dissipate much faster in water than low to mid-range signals the testing is less likely to have an impact on protected species.
To mitigate the potential impact of its activities, the Navy is to establish safety zones around each of its vessels using sonar and active acoustic equipment, with spotters notifying vessel commanders if mammals are spotted, at which point any active testing would be suspended.
The agency’s approval of the Navy’s request comes while it is reconsidering its previous approval of Navy preparedness activities off the coast of California between Imperial Beach and Coronado, which resulted in the deaths of three dolphins earlier this year.