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Soundings Archive

NOAA Issues Regulations Restricting Navy Training Exercises Off the Northwest Coast
On November 10, 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued regulations and authorization for Naval training exercises off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The regulations were issued in response to the U.S. Navy's request for the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to activities conducted in the Northwest Training Range Complex (NWTRC). The Navy's request was made pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection.

NOAA's Fisheries Service granted the authorization for the Navy's training exercises, because the Fisheries Service found that the exercises would likely result in death or serious injury to the marine mammals. However, NOAA determined that the "mid-frequency sound generated by tactical sonar, and the sound and pressure generated by detonating explosives, may affect the behavior of some marine mammals, or cause a temporary loss of their hearing sensitivity." Thus, NOAA's regulations require the Navy to take protective measures during training to minimize impact to the mammals.

The protective measures the Navy must undertake include:

  1. Establishing marine mammal safety zones around each vessel using sonar;

  2. Using Navy observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated safety zones;

  3. Using exclusion zones, to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance.
Furthermore, the regulations include a continuous monitoring requirement. Under the regulations, the Navy is required to meet annually with NOAA to discuss new science, Navy research and development, and Navy monitoring results, to determine if modifications to mitigation or monitoring measures are appropriate.
  • Click here to read NOAA's regulations
  • As a reference, click here for the rule as originally proposed
  • Click here to read NOAA’s press release
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