The Navy Times website (1) reports that the California Coastal Commission has denied a proposed Navy sonar training program due to fears that it will harm marine mammals and fish. The Navy maintains that the threat to sea life is negligible while estimating that the effects of the program would kill 130 marine mammals and cause hearing loss in 1600 others – that’s not exactly negligible. The Navy program would begin at the start of 2014 and affects 120,000 square miles of ocean.
This is a very difficult issue with no easy solution. There are scientific studies which suggest a link between dolphin and whale groundings and deaths and the use of naval sonars. Further, there is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence to support a cause and effect. Common sense would seem to support the contention, as well. Sonar is sound waves and it would be reasonable to expect that intense sound waves would harm sea life that depends on hearing for survival. My understanding is that the low frequency sonars which are being used more often, now, for shallow water ASW are more harmful than high or medium frequency units. No one wants indiscriminate destruction of marine life but, on the other hand, no one wants to see the Navy’s training suffer with the result that ships and crew are ill-prepared for combat.
I know budgets are tight but this is an issue that warrants additional Navy-funded research. In the meantime, the best solution is probably to try to limit training to areas that are less frequented by susceptible sea life, to the extent reasonably possible.