NOAA tells Navy to go ahead with training but watch for marine mammals

The imperiled right whale and other marine mammals will be watched for in the next round of Navy training and testing off the Southeast coast. But the exercises themselves won’t be changed to protect the animals.

Navy warfare training restrictions on Atlantic range

Establish marine mammal mitigation zones around each vessel using sonar.

Use Navy observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated mitigation zones.

Use mitigation zones to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance.

Implement a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown provision in certain circumstances, and allows for the Navy to contribute in-kind services to NOAA Fisheries if the agency has to conduct a stranding response and investigation.

Use specific mitigation measures at certain times to reduce effects on North Atlantic right whales.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

That’s the final ruling from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the environmental impact of operating a massive sea and air warfare-training range for the next five years along 50,000 square miles off the East Coast.

Coming Saturday

Reaction to the NOAA restrictions on Navy training in the Atlantic and a look at how this year’s right whale migration could be riskier than in recent years. In South

The NOAA ruling, announced but not released Thursday, restricts detonating explosives and other loud noises for a distance when the animals are determined to be in the vicinity and calls for ceasing the noise if they are found there.

It’s a frustrating conclusion for conservation groups who say exercises in the range could deafen and/or be lethal to marine mammals such as whales and dolphins that navigate by echolocation, and could harm other species such as sea turtles.

Navy officials maintain the service has conducted training offshore for 60 years with little environmental impact, and has changed how the exercises are conducted when problems have emerged.

Any number of marine mammals, including the critically endangered right whales, frequent the waters off South Carolina and the entire coast. Fewer than 500 right whales are known to exist off the East Coast.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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