Animal Rights

U.S. Navy to Put Endangered Whales at Risk Via Sonar

| by NRDC

There's been a lot of press about
the sighting of 11 North Atlantic right whales off the Florida coast. This is big news! North Atlantic right whales are critically
endangered, with only about 300 remaining in the world.

Right whales
got their name by being in the wrong place - hovering near the surface
of the water. Thus, early whalers dubbed them the "right" whale to
kill.

Unfortunately for right whales, things haven't gotten much better. The U.S. Navy now plans to build a 500-square-mile undersea sonar
testing range right next to their critical habitat - and only
known calving ground - in the waters off northeastern Florida. Even
worse for right whales, the same sonar that the Navy plans to use has
caused mass injuries and deaths of whales around the globe. 

Sonar can
also induce panic responses, displace animals, and disrupt crucial
behavior such as feeding, breeding, navigating, and avoiding predators.

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Locating this massive sonar testing range right next to the only
known calving ground for a critically endangered species makes no
sense. The Navy clearly isn't listening to the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS), which has specifically recognized the
importance of the right whale calving ground as "a location vital to the population" and a "very high-risk area for pregnant females, new mothers, and calves."

The Navy's proposal would place mothers and their baby calves in
extreme risk because they are the most vulnerable segment of the
population. Not only are they the most susceptible to noise, but they
would also be highly exposed to ship strikes. Mothers and calves, in
particular, are more likely to remain on or near the surface of the
water as a result of the limited lung capacity of newborns. However,
their dark coloration and lack of a dorsal fin make them difficult to
detect.

Despite these dangers, the Navy has arbitrarily concluded that not a
single right whale would be injured by the over 470 sonar training
exercises per year spanning over 500 square nautical miles. Such logic
simply defies reason. To make matters worse, the Navy has rejected a
long list of mitigation measures that could reduce the harmful impacts
of its sonar training, including seasonal restrictions during the right
whale calving period and geographic exclusions of the right whale
calving ground.

Ignoring the advice of NMFS - that any disturbance whatsoever could affect the survival of the species - will lead to disaster for the right whales that, once again, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Click here to read NRDC's letter to NMFS.

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