Policy News

NOAA Issues Regulations to Protect Marine Mammals in Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing Study Area

NOAA Fisheries has issued regulations and letters of authorization to the U.S. Navy requiring they use measures to minimize impacts to marine mammals while conducting training and testing activities in Navy ranges in state waters off Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

The Navy requested the authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because the sound generated by mid-frequency active sonar and the pressure generated by detonating explosives might cause temporary hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals.

The Navy is operating under rules that NOAA Fisheries issued in 2010 and 2011 for two training range complexes the Navy is now combining. The Navy has submitted annual monitoring and exercise reports, and they are required to renew their MMPA authorizations every five years.

Under the authorization, the Navy is required to follow measures to minimize effects on marine mammals, including:

Establishing marine mammal mitigation zones around each sonar-deploying vessel; Allowing observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated zones; and Using mitigation zones to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance. No deaths of marine mammals are anticipated or authorized. The measures included in the rule should minimize the potential for injury and significantly reduce the number of marine mammals exposed to levels of sound likely to cause behavioral reactions and temporary loss of hearing sensitivity.

The authorization includes an adaptive management component that requires the Navy and NOAA Fisheries to meet yearly to discuss new marine mammal science, Navy research and development, and to review Navy monitoring and exercise reports to determine if mitigation or monitoring measures need to be modified.

NOAA Fisheries and the Navy have worked to develop a robust monitoring plan that uses experienced Navy marine mammal observers and passive acoustic monitoring to help gain a better understanding of how marine mammals respond to various levels of sound and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures.

Additionally, an integrated comprehensive monitoring plan developed by the Navy, with input from NOAA Fisheries, focuses on monitoring goals and standardizes data-collection methods across all U.S. Navy range complexes.

The final regulations and the Navy’s application are available here.

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