Tell National Marine Fisheries Service Not to Allow Navy to Harm Millions of East Coast Marine Mammals

Update: 

In November 2013 the National Marine Fisheries Service issued regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow for the taking of marine mammals incidental to training and testing activities conducted in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) Study Area from November 2013 through November 2018. To see the final rule click here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/aftt_finalrule.pdf.
 


Date: 
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Take Action - Photo by FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute

Dear Humanitarian,

We need your help to oppose a plan to allow the U.S. Navy—over a five-year period—to harm or kill tens of millions of marine mammals throughout the eastern U.S. coastal waters and Gulf of Mexico.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the “take” (actual or attempted harassment, hunting, capturing, killing or collecting) of marine mammals in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens on the high seas. In 1981 and again in 1986, the law was amended to allow for some "incidental," (unintentional) taking of small numbers of marine mammals, including endangered and threatened species, for specified activities within specified geographic regions. These limited takings typically must be small in number and can have no more than a "negligible impact" on marine mammal species or populations. The MMPA was further amended in 2003, to exempt takings associated with "military readiness" activities from the aforementioned "specified geographical region" and "small numbers" requirements, and to limit what constitutes "harassment" under the MMPA when applied to military readiness activities.

The U.S. Navy recently requested regulations and Letters of Authorization (LOAs) from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that would allow it, from January 2014 through January 2019, to take tens of millions of marine mammals incidental to thousands of training and testing activities in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Study Area (AFTT). This massive area includes all the waters along the eastern U.S. coast (and more than 200 miles out to sea, into international waters, for some activities) from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. It is home to a variety of marine animals, including 45 marine mammal species. All 45 mammal species could be impacted, including those listed under the Endangered Species Act—namely, North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, sei whales, blue whales, bowhead whales, and sperm whales.

Animals present in this area are at risk of death and injury resulting from the huge number of naval training activities planned for the five-year period, involving multiple surface ships, submarines, and aircraft. These exercises—singly or combined—will disrupt significant biological behaviors and will prove fatal to many animals exposed to active sonar blasts, underwater detonations, ship strikes, live firing, and/or pile driving.

The Navy’s primary strategy for limiting the potentially devastating impacts from its activities is to use lookouts—even at night!—to scan for animals, and to limit activities (e.g., reducing active sonar levels) when animals get too close. Even on clear days, detecting marine mammals on a moving sea from a moving platform is difficult. As AWI and others pointed out in our comments to the Navy on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement last year, this mitigation technique is woefully inadequate, as evidenced by the Navy’s request for—and the NMFS's plan to allow—tens of millions of takes.

There is still time to raise objections over this assault on our oceans! The NMFS is currently requesting comments on its proposal to issue regulations and LOAs to the Navy. Please tell the agency not to allow the Navy to conduct activities in the AFTT until the Navy significantly alters its planned operations so as to—at minimum—limit proposed activities to periods of good visibility, reduce the number of operations, avoid biologically sensitive habitats (and establish meaningful buffer zones), and vastly improve and expand mitigation methods.

Comments must be received no later than Monday, March 11, 2013.

Take Action - YTell the National Marine Fisheries Service Not to Allow Navy to Harm Millions of East Coast Marine MammalsPlease tell the agency not to allow the Navy to conduct activities in the AFTT until the Navy significantly alters its planned operations so as to, at minimum:

  • limit proposed activities to periods of good visibility
  • reduce the number of operations
  • avoid biologically sensitive habitats and establish meaningful buffer zones, and
  • vastly improve and expand mitigation methods.
     

It is better, if possible, to use your own words to make the comments more meaningful. You may submit comments by either of the following methods:

  • Electronically, via the Federal eRulemaking Portal
  • Via U.S. Postal Mail, including the Reference Identification Number 0648-BC53 in your letter and addressed to:
    P. Michael Payne, Chief
    Permits and Conservation Division
    Office of Protected Resources
    National Marine Fisheries Service
    1315 East-West Highway
    Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225


More information on the Navy's take application is available on the NMFS Incidental Take Authorizations web page. (In the chart at the bottom of the web page, under "Applicant" heading, find "2012 U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Activities (AFTT)" and click on associated links to the right.)

Please be sure to share our "Dear Humanitarian" eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to submit comments, too. As always, thank you very much for your help!

Sincerely,

Susan Millward
Executive Director

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