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Washington state officials slam Navy's changes to military testing program that would harm more orcas

Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

A "take" is a harm to an animal that occurs in the course of activities approved by federal officials charged under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act with protecting marine mammals and threatened wildlife.

Kate Goggin, spokesperson for NOAA, said in an email that the Navy's program is largely a continuation of activities under rules adopted in 2015 -- with addition of some new training and testing activities.

Mitigation and monitoring by the Navy is "expected to reduce adverse impacts to marine mammals," Goggin added. The agency will be considering the comments received during the now concluded public comment period, including from state officials, as it writes the final rule, she said.

The Navy is having "active discussions" with the regulators to determine if anything can be done to reduce further potential effects to southern residents, said Julianne Stanford, environmental public affairs specialist for the Navy Region Northwest.

"The Navy is keenly aware of the challenges faced by the southern resident killer whales resulting from a multitude of human activities, and focuses considerable effort on avoiding or minimizing potential effects on the species in planning for its at-sea activities throughout the region," Stanford said in an email.

During at-sea activities, the Navy employs a variety of measures to reduce potential effects on all marine species, Stanford said.

 

Those include posting lookouts to watch for marine mammals, using acoustic detection devices to listen for their presence, powering down or shutting down sonar if marine mammals are seen and being careful when traveling to avoid ship strikes, she said.

That's not good enough, Inslee and the state agencies stated.

The Navy's proposed exclusion zone around southern residents for naval operations is smaller than what state law requires even for whale watching.

The governor wants a bigger exclusion zone around the whales, as well as seasonal limits on use of sonar in prime orca feeding areas, and better methods in place to detect when orcas are present.

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