Navy to Reexamine Effects of Pacific Training Exercises on Whales
Exercises off Southern California, Hawaiʻi Under Review After Deadly Ship Strike
The US Navy announced this week that it will reevaluate the impacts of its testing and training exercises on endangered whales off Southern California and Hawaiʻi. The move comes in response to a notice of intent to sue from the Center for Biological Diversity, filed after two dead fin whales were found on the hull of a military destroyer in San Diego in May.
The Center sent the Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service a letter demanding the agencies consult on ways to avoid killing endangered whales. According to a July 14 letter from the NMFS, both the Navy and the Fisheries Service Permits and Conservation Division have agreed to reinitiate consultation on the basis of new information.
“We’re glad to see the Navy reexamining the harms of its training exercises on these mighty but vulnerable creatures,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center. “These military activities can wreak havoc on whales, dolphins and other marine mammals through explosions, sonar and ship strikes. We hope this process leads to new mitigation measures like slowing ships down in important whale habitat. The Biden administration needs to find a better balance of marine protection with military readiness.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the mother fin whale and her calf were apparently killed by an Australian destroyer, which carried their bodies back to port, unaware of the collision, during military exercises with the Navy off the coast of San Diego.
The Center sued the federal government over its failure to protect endangered whales from speeding ships in January and filed a federal petition in April seeking a mandatory 10-knot speed limit.
Federal records document at least 26 whales killed by vessel strikes along the West Coast from 2014 through 2018. That makes vessel strikes one of the leading human-induced causes of death of large whales.
The Navy operates under a five-year permit approved in 2018 for Pacific military exercises from Southern California to Hawai‘i. Last year, the permit was extended for another two years until 2025.