Over the course of five years, the US Navy has killed or injured some 12 million marine animals, an international citizen watchdog group has found.
The West Coast Action Alliance combed through the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing EIS (environmental impact statement), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Letters of Authorization, to arrive at the total. All marine mammal “takes” were counted, “takes” being the way that the Navy counts whether there was harm to an animal, covering a range beginning at simple harassment and ending in death.
“The US Navy is allowed to ‘take’ as a result of exploding mines and bombs and using sonar in sensitive habitats during testing and training exercises,” the WCAA explained on their website.
The use of sonar and its subsequent environmental harassment can also lead to animal deaths, as the initial harassment often drives them out of their natural habitat.
“The numbers are staggering,” Karen Sullivan, a spokesperson for the WCAA, told Truthout. “When you realize the same individual animals can be harassed over and over again as they migrate to different areas, there is no mitigation that can make up for these losses except limiting the use of sonar and explosives where these animals are trying to live.”
The numbers, if counting all wildlife, are probably far greater, as the data does “not include takes to endangered and threatened seabirds, fish, sea turtles or terrestrial species impacted by Navy activities, using sonar, explosives, underwater and surface drones, sonobuoys, ships, submarines, aircraft, or troops training on 68 beaches and state parks in western Washington.”
As Truthout explained, at 140 decibels, sound vibrations can rupture internal organs, even in humans.
“Navy sonar is capable of at least 235 decibels at the source,” according to the WCAA website. “This is over 10 trillion times more intense than the 85-decibel threshold” to damage hearing in humans. Underwater, the noise is heightened and 140 decibel noise can remain that high even 300 miles from the source.
In the Gulf of Alaska, animals included in these takes include many species of endangered whales, such as North Pacific right whales, humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, sei whales, gray whales, and sperm whales.
“The oceans are delicate and finite; we know now that there is a limit to what the seas can provide,” Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager of the Eyak Preservation Council, told Truthout. “Oceans are not blue deserts [devoid of life] and should not be treated as such; we must tread carefully, for the footprint we leave will be a lasting one.”
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the military practice finds that not only is this destruction permitted by the US government, but over one quarter of every tax dollar paid by Americans is helping to fund it.