Trump Administration Approves Navy Training that Could “Take” Endangered Whales

Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound       Photo: NOAA

By Amy Lupica, Our Daily Planet Contributing Writer

Last week, the Trump administration approved permits for future military training exercises over the next seven years in the Pacific Ocean that could harm or kill endangered whale populations. The permits, published in the Federal Register Thursday, increases the number of whales the Navy is allowed to “take” (harm or kill) from 2 per year to 51. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) estimates that the disruptive activities, which include sonar, explosions, and speeding vessels, could harm over 500 whales per year.

Why This Matters: The world is facing an extinction crisis. Biodiversity loss is at its highest rates ever across the globe and, without swift action to protect plant and animal life, there will be devastating effects. Healthy and thriving marine ecosystems support the global fishing industry and thousands of jobs. Whales area crucial part of these ecosystems; scientists have observed that they act as “ecosystem engineers.” Because of their large metabolic demand whales play a major role in the carbon lifecycle in oceans. They consume large amounts of fish and plankton and their excrement stimulates further plankton populations. Even after natural death, their bodies provide nutrients for other creatures. This carbon cycle is imperative to the health of oceans. They are the world’s largest carbon sinks, and warming ocean temperatures are already harming their ability to absorb carbon.

Besieged at Sea

The Trump administration is doing grave damage by encouraging and allowing accelerating biodiversity loss. These training exercises by the Navy are estimated to harm 200 humpback whales, 300 minke whales, and 10 blue whales each year. Experts at the Center for Biological Diversity assert that the NMFS incidental take permits fail to properly analyze the harm that could be done to the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales and North Pacific right whales. There are only 74 Southern Resident killer whales left in Puget Sound and only a couple dozen North Pacific right whales.

Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director with the Center said of the ruling, “This plan allows Navy war games to harm and harass marine mammals from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska. Critically endangered orcas and right whales would be assaulted by sonar and explosions.” She added, “We understand the need for military training, but the Navy can do much more to balance that with its legal obligation to minimize harm to vulnerable marine life.”

Noise pollution caused by sonar and explosions can deafen whales and interfere with crucial behaviors like eating, breeding, and migrating. It can also harm zooplankton, a major source of food for many ocean organisms, causing mortality rates of up to 50 percent. The Center believes that a variety of whale species could be affected by 1.7 million instances of this harassment over the seven-year approved training period.

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