Numerous studies have shown that sonar can have negative impacts on marine species. Due to the impacts of sonar, some whales and dolphins have found to experience perforated ear drums. Others have beached themselves and subsequently died, with potential death without beaching a possibility under high sonar use. These are the reasons why environmental groups are now concerned about recently released figures for potential harm due to U.S. Navy testing in the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Navy has planned training exercises off the Southern California coast and Hawaii. These training exercises use sonar and are expected to potentially impact hundreds of thousands of marine mammals. The training is to take place between 2014 and 2018. The Navy had already determined an environmental impact statement but now a new statement has environmental groups alarmed by the number of mammals potentially impacted.
The original environmental impact statement estimates marine mammals may be harmed by the training exercises upwards of 150,000 times a year for the extent of the training. However, a newly released environmental impact statement by the Navy has indicated that the training has the potential to harm upwards of 2.8 million times per year.
That is an estimated 14 million times marine mammals that may be harmed over the course of the training and testing. The environmental impact statement listed the ways the mammals may be harmed, including twelve million times of potential behavioral issues. Behavioral harm include forcing marine mammals to leave their region of feeding or breeding. Two million of the encounters are potential temporary hearing loss while another 2,000 may permanently make the mammal in question unable to hear. At least 1,000 marine mammals may also be killed by explosive testing during the exercises.
Physical harm is not the only driving force behind the environment groups’ fears. The groups also fear that continued use of sonar in the region will drive marine species from birthing and feeding grounds. This could affect the ecosystem in the region, impact births and reproduction and even reduce available food for individuals. The top species expected to be harmed by the training are dolphins, whales and orcas. The groups are not seeking to end the training overall but to reduce the training, especially for certain locations and times of breeding and feeding.
The Navy countered the environmental groups’ fears by indicating that the figures were worst-case scenario levels of harm for marine mammals. Also, the previous environmental impact statement is said to have covered a much smaller region for the Navy training and testing.