Friday, March 8, 2013

Sonar and Sea Life

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. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a hard-hearted man when it come to animals. But this couldn't happen at a worse time. When we should see the Navy going back to basics with ASW, "lawfare" will make this a non-starter. Coastal ops are an important part of sub-hunting. If the Navy loses this fight, these restrictions will seriously limit the training.

    The effect of this could go global. Other states, and later nations, will use the California restrictions to hamstring USN training elsewhere: If the Navy can't do ASW off California, what makes it ok off my coast?

    This reminds me of Vieques. It was the best of the few bomb ranges left for the USN&MC in the Atlantic, for aircraft and naval gunfire up to 16". But it was shut down for politics. Now the Navy has to do some training as far as in the Indian Ocean to compensate.


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