Navy Sonar OK’d Despite Potential Whale Harm

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized regulations that allow the U.S. Navy to harm marine mammals “incidental” to its use of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar, through five-year Letters of Authorization.
      Read Courthouse News’ Environmental Law Review.
     The final regulation follows a January proposed rule.
     The Navy plans to conduct the same types of sonar use they have conducted over the past nine years, according to the recent action. The NMFS has added an additional monitoring requirement for harbor porpoises and beaked whales based on comments on the earlier proposed rule, according to the final regulation.
     The Navy uses the long-range sonar to detect hard-to-find submarines in its military readiness activities, but the sonar could cause behavioral disturbances and injury to 94 species of marine mammals if not mitigated, the regulation states. Fifteen of the affected species are listed as endangered and three species are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to the action.
     This action regulates incidental as opposed to intentional harm to the animals, and it specifies that sonar transmissions be suspended if a marine mammal enters the 2 kilometer buffer zone, that biologically important sonar-restricted areas be established, that visual and acoustic monitoring and monitoring of stranding events are required, and that research on how the animals respond to the sonar is required.
     The Navy plans to conduct the sonar activities from a maximum of four vessels operating in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, and is required to submit quarterly and annual reports and a final comprehensive report to the NMFS during the five year period of the Letters of Authorization, the action details.

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