Supporting Oceanic Research and Complying With Environmental Laws

Your Navy has a unique relationship with the oceans – aboard ships for many months, Sailors travel the globe to defend freedom and experience the power and beauty of the sea. We have great respect for the marine environment, and as such, fund marine mammal research, analyzes our effects, and protect marine life during training and testing at sea.

The following blog is written by Rear Admiral Kevin R. Slates, Director, Chief of Naval Operations Energy & Environmental Readiness Division.

An article that recently appeared in the New York Times discussed a project led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to analyze and map underwater sounds in the ocean and determine the locations and densities of marine mammals. The U.S. Navy is a key contributor to this effort, in terms of funding as well as participation by our marine scientists. We see the project as a great start for managing ocean sound and understanding the effects, and hope to see it continue to grow with collaboration from other research-focused organizations. Recognizing the complexity of the ocean issues, the wide range of species, and the diverse needs of the stakeholders involved, it is vital that the maps and data that result from this work be based on the best quality science.

Sonar Technician 2nd Class Richard Schnitz, from Filmore, Calif., stands watch in the sonar control room aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josue L. Escobosa/Released)

Ari Friedlaender, a Duke University Marine Laboratory researcher, attaches a D-TAG to a pilot whale off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. Friedlaender is collaborating with scientists at The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to study the effects of sound on marine mammals. The D-TAG is a digital acoustic recording tag ised to study marine mammal behavior. (U.S. Navy photo by Ari S. Friedlaender/Released)

The Times article also mentions sonar as one of many sources of manmade sound in the ocean that can affect marine life, and cites general estimates of the numbers of marine mammals that may be affected by Navy at-sea training and testing activities. It is important to recognize that these numbers are based on a mathematical model that calculates absolute worst-case scenarios that are highly unlikely to occur. While there have been isolated cases where small numbers of marine mammals have stranded as a result of sonar exposure, there has been no evidence of harm to large numbers of marine mammals from Navy activities despite decades of training and testing in a similar manner. The Navy employs NOAA-approved protective measures every time sonar is used, reducing the likelihood that marine mammals will be affected. These protective measures are contained in permits issued by NOAA, and the permits can only be issued if the covered activity will have no more than a negligible impact on protected marine mammal species or stocks.

The Navy is a world leader in marine mammal research, dedicating over $100 million during the past five years to improve knowledge of how marine mammals hear, where they live, and how they are affected by sound. In combination with NOAA-led ocean sound mapping and marine density analysis projects, and other science initiatives, it is our hope that such research will eventually lead to a more comprehensive understanding of mankind’s effects on marine life. The Navy is and will continue to be a responsible steward of the environment both ashore and at sea—and conduct training and testing that is essential for carrying out our national security mission.

For more information about the Navy’s energy, environmental and climate change initiatives, please visit

55 feet remain visible after the crew of the Floating Instrument Platform, or FLIP, partially flood the ballast tanks causing the vessel to turn stern first into the ocean. The 355-foot research vessel, owned by the Office of Naval Research and operated by the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, conducts investigations in a number of fields, including acoustics, oceanography, meteorology and marine mammal observation. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

Deanna Rees, a marine wildlife biologist with Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, looks through a pair of binoculars to scan for marine mammal activity aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Gay/Released)