[MARMAM] Navy Seeks Permit to Use Sonar During RIMPAC Exercises

Jeremy Firestone jf at udel.edu
Thu Apr 27 05:43:24 PDT 2006

Navy Seeks Permit to Use Sonar During RIMPAC Exercises

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2006 (ENS) - NOAA Fisheries Service is seeking
public comments on the U.S. Navy's proposal to conduct Rim of the Pacific
(RIMPAC) anti-submarine arfare exercises around the Main Hawaiian Islands
using tactical mid-frequency sonar. 

The mid-frequency sound generated by the tactical sonar used in the
exercises has the potential to disrupt the behavior of individual marine
mammals in close proximity to the exercises. Up to 22 species of marine
mammals inhabit this area of the Pacific. The Navy is requesting an
authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

RIMPAC is a multi-national training exercise that has been conducted every
other year since 1968. This year, RIMPAC is scheduled to occur June 26
through July 28, with exercises using sonar planned on 21 days. 

In their application for an Incidental Harassment Authorization, the Navy
proposed several standard protective measures to be implemented during the
RIMPAC exercises. NOAA Fisheries Service has worked closely with the Navy to
develop a suite of additional mitigation and monitoring measures designed to
reduce the likelihood of harassment. These additional measures would be
required during RIMPAC. 

"Our scientists believe these measures, if fully implemented, will avoid the
potential for serious injury or mortality to marine mammals," said Dr. Bill
Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director. "These mitigation measures will
significantly reduce the number of marine mammals exposed to levels of sound
likely to cause a behavioral disruption. These safeguards are a result of
the high level of cooperation that we have had with the Navy." 

During the RIMPAC exercises, the Navy will implement safety zones around all
vessels using active sonar, and will reduce power or shut down sonar
operations if marine mammals are seen within the zones. 

At night or low visibility times, the Navy will use infrared or passive

If marine mammals cannot be fully detected out to the prescribed safety
zone, sonar will be powered down as if a marine mammal were present
immediately beyond their visual range. 

During the RIMPAC exercises, with the exception of three closely monitored
choke-point exercises, mid-frequency sonar will not be operated in
canyon-like areas, in constricted channels, or within certain distances
around the islands. 

Choke-point exercises involve vessels moving through constricted channels,
sweeping the area with sonar, similar to operational situations where they
would anticipate submarine ambushes. 

During the choke-point exercises, the Navy will use additional dedicated
shipboard marine mammal observers; use additional dedicated aerial and
vessel-bound observers, and land-based observers; and contract with
experienced cetacean researchers to monitor the behavior of marine mammals
in the vicinity of the exercises. 

NOAA Fisheries Service will accept comments on the application and proposed
authorization through May 24. Comments should be addressed to: Steve
Leathery, Chief of the Permits, Conservation, and Education Division; Office
of Protected Resources, NMFS; 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD

Comments may be sent by e-mail to PR1.011806L at noaa.gov. A copy of the
application and federal register notice may be obtained by contacting the
same office. 


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