Will Sonobuoys In The Pacific Help The Navy But Harm Whales?



By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

The Navy conducts training and testing in a stretch of the Pacific  roughly the size of Montana.

It wants to continue and expand its activities in these waters off the West Coast from Washington to Northern California. But first, the Navy must renew its permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The plan calls for detonating explosives, moving vessels, and deploying 700 more sonobuoys per year. And that’s drawing criticism from environmentalists who say the increased use of sonar poses increased risk for whales and other marine mammals.

Sonobouys are three-feet-long cylindrical floats are dropped from aircraft into the water. They use active sonar for the audible clues that can help them locate enemy submarines.

“It’s a critical mission for the Navy to be able to identify and locate submarines and utilizing these types of equipment is how we do that job,” said John Mosher, the environment program manager for the Navy in the Northwest.

The Navy says it keeps a lookout for marine life before conducting tests. It estimates that the added buoys will lead to more than 100,000 potential sonar exposures for marine life.

Mosher acknowledge that “exposure numbers” for marine mammals will increase if the Navy gets its way.

“But I’d like to stress that those exposures are at the low level of behavioral disturbance,” he added. “The animals may hear the device but it’s that simple. No injury, no long-lasting impact whatsoever.”

EarthJustice lawyer Steve Mashuda said increased use of active sonar will disrupt marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and calving.

“It’s behavioral disruption, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize this is happening over and over and over again,” he said.

Mashuda said the Navy is increasing the potential risk to marine mammals without increasing the precautions it’s taking to avoid harming them during testing.

Environmentalists takes particular issue with the Navy’s proposal to conduct tests within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It’s an area known to be frequented by blue whales, humpback whales, gray whales and endangered orcas.

“We have been saying for a long time that we’re not attempting to stop the Navy from training,” Mashuda said. “But what we are saying is there are areas on the coast, particularly the Washington coast, where we know that there are higher concentrations of marine mammals.

The Navy did not respond to requests to comment about its need to conduct testing exercises in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Navy recently has been criticized by residents of the Olympic Peninsula for proposing to conduct electromagnetic warfare testing in the Olympic National Forest.

Residents of the island communities in Puget Sound report recent increases in loud fighter jets, or “growlers” overhead.

The Navy is expected to release a final environmental review of its proposed marine training and testing activities this summer. The public will have a final chance to comment then.

In preparing that final review, the Navy is holding open house meetingsand taking submitted comments until Feb. 2.

Upcoming public meetings:


Grays Harbor College HUB

1620 Edward P. Smith Drive

Aberdeen, WA 98520


Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym

825 NE 7th St

Newport, OR


Eureka Public Marina, Wharfinger Building, Great Room

1 Marina Way

Eureka, CA 95501

Navy Seeks Permits To Expand Testing Off Northwest Coast

Sailors unloading sonobouys from a Sea Hawk helicopter. The Navy wants to expand its permit to deploy vessels and sonobouys off the Washington, Oregon and northern California coastline.U.S. Navy
Sailors unloading sonobouys from a Sea Hawk helicopter. The Navy wants to expand its permit to deploy vessels and sonobouys off the Washington, Oregon and northern California coastline.
U.S. Navy


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW


SEATTLE — For the past several years the Navy has been in the process of renewing the permits it needs under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to continue detonating explosives and performing sonar tests and other military activities along a large swath of the Northwest coast, from Northern California to the Canadian border.

Starting Monday, the Navy is asking for public comment on asupplement to its initial environmental impact statement. The supplement includes consideration of an increase in escort vessels and other traffic and anti-submarine warfare training using sonobuoys. Sonobuoys are 3-foot long buoys that are dropped from aircraft into the ocean. The devices use active sonar to detect submarines beneath the surface. The sonar is harmful to whales and dolphins.

Marine mammals like porpoises, gray and fin whales and endangered orcas travel through the Navy’s training range. That’s raised alarm among marine mammal advocates who have voiced concerns about the Navy’s activities. EarthJustice and others conservation groups are opposed to the Navy’s desire to conduct testing and training within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Navy says it will keep a lookout for marine life during the exercises.

The public has until Feb. 2 to submit comments.

Upcoming public meetings:


Grays Harbor College HUB
1620 Edward P. Smith Drive
Aberdeen, WA 98520


Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym
825 NE 7th St
Newport, OR


Eureka Public Marina, Wharfinger Building, Great Room
1 Marina Way
Eureka, CA 95501

Navy Looks To Renew Permits For Bombing And Sonar Exercises In The Northwest

The U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Pacific Ocean alongside the oiler USNS Yukon. | credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

The U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Pacific Ocean alongside the oiler USNS Yukon. | credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — The Navy is pursuing permits to continue conducting sonar and explosives exercises in a large area of the Pacific Ocean — and that’s putting marine mammal advocates on high alert.

Public hearings kick off next week as the Navy gathers public comments on its draft environmental impact statement for the Northwest training and testing range. The range stretches from northern California to the Canadian border.

Marine mammals, like porpoises, gray and fin whales and endangered orcas, travel through the Navy’s training range. That’s why marine mammal advocates are voicing concerns about the Navy’s activities.

In the draft EIS the Navy outlined plans to conduct up to 100 mid-range active sonar tests each year. That type of sonar has been shown to affect marine mammal behavior.

The Navy also wants to conduct up to 30 bombing exercises per year in the range.

The Northwest training and testing range. Credit: Navy


John Mosher, Northwest Environmental program manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, says the training range is critical to naval preparedness.

“At some point realistic training, whether it’s with explosives or sonar, has to take place and they truly are skills that are perishable, things that have to be routinely conducted to be able to do them in case the real need occurs,” Mosher said.

The Navy gathered more than 300 public comments during an earlier scoping phase of its environmental review. Most of those comments centered around impacts on marine mammals.

The Navy has plans in place to look and listen for marine mammals before and during testing exercises. But environmentalists say the mitigation measures are inadequate.

“They’re dropping bombs and you can’t see orcas from the air,” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network. “There’s every real danger that orcas are going to stray into a live bombing range and we don’t want to see that.”

Brad Hanson


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been studying the endangered orca population of Puget Sound by tagging orcas and using underwater acoustic monitoring devices to better understand how the whales move through the region. The population of Southern Resident Orcas is hovering around 80 individuals, and has been decreasing in recent years.

Brad Hanson, an expert on orcas with NOAA, says the area within the naval training and testing range is an important forage area for the whales.

“We want to figure out if there are particular areas that the whales are using so the Navy could avoid using those areas for training exercises that might cause any type of harassment of the animals,” he said.

Hanson’s tagging research has shown orcas moving from Washington to northern California within the span of a week.

The body of 3-year-old female Orca L112.
Credit: Cascadia Research


Last year a 3-year-old female orca washed up dead near the mouth of the Columbia River. Her body showed signs of trauma that could have been the result of an explosion but it had been drifting on the Columbia River’s eddies for days, making the results of the necropsy report inconclusive. The official findings were to be released by NOAA Fisheries on Monday.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive necropsy report I’ve ever seen done on a killer whale,” Hanson said.

The Navy also recently announced plans to build a new $15 million dollar facility near Port Angeles, Wash. on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

What’s Next

Public meetings will be held from 5-8 p.m. for the following dates and locations:

  • Feb. 26, 5-8 pm: Oak Harbor High School, Oak Harbor, Wash.
  • Feb. 27, Cascade High School, Everett, Wash.
  • Feb. 28, North Kitsap High School, Poulsbo, Wash.
  • March 3, Astoria High School, Astoria, Ore.
  • March 4, Isaac Newton Magnet School, Newport, Ore.

The deadline for written comments on the Northwest Training and Testing range EIS is March 25.

Navy Says Failed Pump Led To Oily Wastewater Spill In Puget Sound

By Ashley Ahearn, EarthFix

The Navy is blaming a failed pump for its spill of nearly 2,000 gallons of oily wastewater into Puget Sound.

Tom Danaher, spokesman for Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, said the Navy was using a pumping system on one of its piers to remove oily bilge water from a vessel late Monday.

An electrical ground prevented the pump from automatically shutting off when a 4,000 holding tank was filled –- and because the operation was not attended, it took about 20-30 minutes before naval staff realized that oil-contaminated waste-water was pouring into the sound, Danaher said in an interview Wednesday.

“So the pumps did not get the signal that the tank was full. The tank overflowed,” he said. “When the people on the pier saw the overflow, we stopped all pumping and started our cleanup.”

The cleanup expanded Wednesday to include the deployment of surveyors who are walking the beaches around Puget Sound’s Hood Canal where the spill occurred, Danaher said.

Mark Toy, a spokesman for the Washington Department of Health, said his agency is continuing to advise against shellfish harvesting in the area affected by the spill

“While at this time there’s not any evidence that shellfish have been affected, we’ve taken the precaution of advising against harvesting from the area,” he said.

Initially, the Navy had indicated the spill involved 150-200 gallons but since then, the unified spill command – including the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington Department of Ecology – have agreed the spill involved nearly 2,000 gallons.

Containing the spill has involved the use of booms to absorb the oily sheen. Danaher said the cleanup has been “like chasing a ghost.”

“Because it’s oily waste, it’s about 95 percent water and that makes it very difficult to absorb and it moves very fast because it’s so light,” he said.

Initially, Navy personnel were skeptical about Washington Department of Ecology reports that the spill had traveled about 10 miles to the Hood Canal Bridge. But then they looked at the state agency’s aerial photographs of the sheen on the water surrounding the bridge.

Danaher described his own reaction to seeing the photos this way:

“Well, there’s good chance it’s probably related to this spill. I wouldn’t know what else to say. I wouldn’t say well, no, that wasn’t it. Some guy dumped his motor boat oil.”