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Just the Facts: Navy Training and Marine Mammals

Your Navy is America’s “away team,” deployed around the world, protecting our freedom and defending our nation’s interests every day. The Navy carries out its mission to protect and defend national security while also being good stewards of the sea by training and testing in full compliance with environmental laws. To ensure Sailors safely return home to families and friends, we have a responsibility to train with the best equipment and under the most realistic conditions available.

For the past several years, the Navy has demonstrated the ability to provide Sailors critical training while also minimizing environmental impacts. We continue to be a world leader in funding research related to marine mammals, significantly contributing to the body of scientific knowledge on marine mammal hearing, behavior and locations. Over the past five years alone, the Navy has funded over $100 million in marine mammal research.

On July 10, in accordance with the process outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act, the public comment period ended for the Navy’s draft environmental impact statements (EIS) covering Navy training and testing activities off the Atlantic coast, Hawaii, southern California and the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve received input from hundreds of citizens ranging from those who acknowledge the science upon which our EIS documents are based, to those who express concerns about our activities’ potential impact to the environment. We truly appreciate the time many people took to attend the meetings and/or read these lengthy documents online and provide us thoughtful comments. The Navy’s next step is to consolidate the comments by topic and prepare to address them as part of our final EIS, which we plan to complete by late summer 2013.

During the public comment period, a petition opposing our EIS was generated on SignOn.org, a service affiliated with MoveOn.org. The petition, which contains inaccuracies and emotional statements, was circulated via email, discussed in the press and linked to environmental websites. With the petition’s alarming headline, a large number of people exercised their first amendment rights by signing the appeal, probably unaware that the claims within it are misleading.

The ability to freely voice our opinions is an individual right we all cherish and one your military risks its lives to defend every day. The Navy fervently advocates all Americans’ right to comment on our EIS documents and it is our hope that the facts and analysis presented in these documents become the basis of public discourse on the Navy’s training and testing activities.

Here is a summary of the facts and analyses related to the draft EIS:

* The Navy employs extensive mitigation measures during our training and testing activities, which we believe significantly minimizes the risk to marine mammals.

* During several decades of training and testing with explosives, only four marine mammals are known to have died during one training accident. Following this incident and in accordance with our standard operating procedures, we ceased all similar training, reviewed our protective measures, worked with regulators and revised procedures to ensure adequate marine mammal protection before resuming training.

*There is evidence of fewer than 40 marine mammal stranding deaths worldwide connected to Navy sonar training, and no such incidents have occurred since 2006. There has never been a recorded marine mammal stranding in which Navy training or testing was a causal factor along the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf of Mexico or Hawaii.

* Our modeling, which does not account for our mitigation efforts, estimates there is a possibility marine mammals may be exposed to sound levels in certain frequencies that could result in a loss of hearing sensitivity. Using our mitigation measures, we expect the actual numbers of marine mammals affected by Navy training and testing to be much lower. Additionally, loss of hearing sensitivity at certain frequencies does not mean marine mammals will become deaf—they will still be able to hear, hunt for food and perform other normal activities.

The Navy uses overly conservative estimated numbers for requesting permits with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). We do this to ensure our training and testing activities are not jeopardized due to an unforeseen event. It’s important to remember NMFS will only issue these permits if they are confident our activities will not pose a significant risk to the survival of marine species populations.

Your Navy is a responsible environmental steward and recognizes the need to protect marine life. At the same time, the growing number of modern, quiet submarines in recent years has increased the Navy’s need to use active sonar to protect against serious threats to national security, the safety of our armed forces and our nation’s economic vitality. For more information, please visit:


PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 27, 2008) While standing watch aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Momsen (DDG 92), Boatswain's Mate Seaman Alden Fenton discusses some of the training he has received to help him spot and identify marine mammals with a journalist from Reuters. Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) The Honorable Dr. Donald Winter visited Momsen with members of the press to observe protective measures Navy employs to protect marine mammals during joint task force exercise. Momsen and other members of the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group are participating in a joint task force exercise off the coast of Southern California. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans (Released)
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Aug. 7, 2009) Pilot whales surface near the NATO Research Vessel Alliance during the Biological and Behavioral Studies of Marine Mammals in the Western Mediterranean Sea (MED 09) study. This multinational study, which focused on marine mammal behavioral patterns and habitats, was primarily sponsored by the U.S. Navy and the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). Researchers affixed monitoring tags to two pilot whales, and acoustically monitored beaked whales and other marine mammals to learn more about their basic biology. (U.S. Navy photo by Ann Allen/Released)


CORAL SEA (July 13, 2009) Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Morgan Baker, assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), looks over the marine mammal recognizer while standing boatswain mate of the watch on the bridge. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Taurean Alexander/Released)





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