On Friday 6th of march, the California Coastal Commission had to make a decision: let the Navy train on Southern Californian waters or not. The Navy’s plans were approved in 2007 and 2008, but with some conditions to protect the wildlife. And they didn’t accomplish any of them. This training is really harmful to dolphin and whales (including the blue whale) as they are planning to detonate about 50.000 underwater explosives with charge enough to sink a warship, and to run 10,000 hours or high-intensity sonar. And that’s just a year of their five-year project.
This time, the conditions for the approval are more restrictive. They include the creation of safety zones near marine sanctuaries and protected areas, and also a safety kilometer from shore. The first kind of area would protect grey, beaked, fin and blue whales (seasonally) and the second one would protect bottlenose dolphins (as well as other species). And from May to October, ships should slow to 10 knots in areas with baleen whales. Environmentalists from the Natural Resources Defence Council and other organizations now want the California Coastal Commission to be stronger than ever, and the U.S. Justice to enforce the agreement.
We still need more studies about how sonars affect marine mammals, but it is well known that marine mammals are affected. At first, sonars will affect their behaviour. Whales would stop feeding, and even stop diving. Some of them could be deaf because of the sonar. Because of this changes, they could even die! It seems that beaked whales are the most sensitive to them. Sonars are often linked to massive marine mammals strandings, but it remains unclear the exact cause so by now it’s not possible to mitigate the effects of sonar. The only solution now is to avoid its use.
The Navy itself posted a Marine Mammal Protection Act, in colaboration with the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service), and they considered two levels of harassment: level B (behavioral disturbance) and level A (damages to the tissues of the ear). They estimated the number of death marine mammals is 130 individues but enrivonmentalists think that this is an underestimate.
In their Marine Mammal Stranding report, they talk about the amount of strandings with speculated links to U.S. sonar activities around the world, but their conclusions are that with the current studies about this, no one can assure that their sonar is the main cause.
Finally, the Commision rejected the proposition, thankfully. Ok, the Navy needs to train and prove their technology, but do they have to do it in the state with the highest number of marine protected areas?
Is there any appropiate area to train, or they should start to use some kind of simulators?