NOAA Issues Stringent Protective Authorizations for Marine Mammals

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has issued final authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to incidentally, but not intentionally, “take” marine mammals during Naval training and testing in the Pacific.

This is the third in a series of five-year incidental take regulations for the Navy’s Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing activities. The final regulations put in place measures that are more protective and include a larger area than those in the proposed regulations or previous regulations.

“The Navy has balanced our conservation requirements for marine mammals with their critical national security requirements for training and military readiness. As the acting NOAA Administrator and a retired Navy admiral, I know this is a win-win for marine mammal protection and national defense,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA.

Under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, NMFS evaluates the predicted effects of human activities on protected marine species and may require other agencies and entities to modify their activities to reduce those effects. In this instance, NOAA is imposing stringent mitigation measures expected to reduce adverse impacts to marine mammal stocks and their habitats as well as listed species, including:

  • Shutting down sonar when marine mammals are in the area;
  • Waiting for animals to leave the training range prior to use of in-water explosives, and monitoring of the area post-activity to detect potentially affected protected species;
  • Following protocols to reduce the likelihood of ships striking marine mammals;
  • Imposing operational limitations in certain areas and times that are biologically important (for example, reproduction, migration, foraging); and
  • Implementing a Notification and Reporting Plan (for dead, stranded, or struck animals)

“NOAA has been working with the Navy for more than ten years to understand the effects the Navy’s testing and training has on marine mammals and, over time, we have steadily increased the protections in place,” said Donna Weiting, director of NMFS’s office of protected resources.

NOAA and the Navy worked together to develop a robust monitoring plan, with associated strict reporting measures. Additionally, the final rule includes an adaptive management component that allows for timely modification of mitigation or monitoring measures based on new information, when appropriate.

In this authorization, the anticipated “take” of marine mammals over the 5-year period primarily includes disruption of behavioral patterns or temporary hearing impairment, but may also include some significantly lesser number of injuries and a very small number of mortalities. The authorization will be in place through December 2023.

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