NOAA’s Fisheries Service has issued regulations and a letter of authorization to the U.S. Navy that includes measures to protect marine mammals while conducting naval exercises off the Gulf of Mexico coast. The regulations require the Navy to implement measures designed to protect and minimize effects to marine mammals.
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(From NOAA) — The Navy requested authorization for the activities under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because the high- and mid-frequency sound generated by sonar, and the sound and pressure generated by detonating explosives, may affect the behavior of some marine mammals or cause a temporary hearing loss.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service does not expect the test and evaluation activities to result in serious injury to marine mammals. However, NOAA is requiring the Navy to use mitigation measures because exposure to nearby underwater detonations can injure marine mammals, and some injury could occur despite the Navy’s best efforts. The proposed authorization allows for a small number of incidental injuries to marine mammals.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service has determined that these effects would have a negligible effect on the species or stocks involved.
Under the authorization, the Navy is required to follow mitigation measures to minimize effects on marine mammals, including:
* establishing marine mammal safety zones around each vessel using sonar and during underwater detonations;
* using Navy observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated safety zones;
* using exclusion zones to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance.
These measures should minimize the potential for injury or death, and significantly reduce the number of marine mammals exposed to levels of sound likely to cause temporary loss of hearing. Additionally, the regulations and authorization include a requirement that the Navy and NOAA’s Fisheries Service meet yearly to discuss new science, Navy research and development, and Navy monitoring results, to determine if modifications to mitigation or monitoring measures are appropriate.