Navy Expanding Operations in NW Training Range Complex: Will This Effect the Orca Population?

An adult female and her calf

Image via Wikipedia

Is Navy Plan a Threat to World’s Oldest Killer Whales?

by Rob Hotakainen (Full article at above link)

At 59, Ruffles is the oldest known male orca in the world, one of an estimated 150 orcas known to inhabit the Puget Sound and the coast of Washington state.

The U.S. Navy prepares to expand its operations in its Northwest Training Range Complex, which stretches from the coastline of Washington state to northern California.

The proposal, which has already been approved by the Obama administration, calls for increased sailor training and weapons testing on the site. It also includes the development of an underwater training minefield for submarines.

“We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. … What people don’t seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody,” said Sheila Murray, a Navy spokeswoman. “It’s our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment.”

Opponents fear that missile and sonar testing and the dumping of depleted uranium could hurt the whales.

In a letter to the Navy, the Natural Resources Defense Council said the plan “would pose significant risk to whales, fish and other wildlife.” And the council said the plan would release a variety of hazardous materials into coastal waters, including “thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium” and more.

The NRDC also said the mid-frequency sonar the Navy uses to detect submarines and underwater objects interferes with whales’ ability to navigate and communicate, and that the chronic noise can disrupt whales’ brain development and depress reproductive rates.

The Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the Navy could use sonar in training exercises off the Southern California coast without heeding restrictions imposed by a lower court to protect whales and dolphins. The Navy voluntarily adopted some protective measures.

He said the Orca Network will try to monitor how the whales fare, difficult as it might be.

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