Safety zones for sonar issued to help whales off East Coast
Rules were announced yesterday by the Federal Fisheries regulators to protect marine mammals during sonar training by the Navy off the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
The rules require that the Navy conduct their training while taking steps to avoid the whales in that area.
The West Coast and Hawaii already has similar rules.
The rules will be in effect for five years, but the Navy will have to provide annual reports and seek a new letter of authorization for its training each year, said Jim Lecky, director of the office of protective services at NOAA's Fisheries Service.
Last fall the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Navy in a case in which environmental groups had sought to block sonar training off the coast of Southern California.
There is some belief that the sonar causes some animals to strand themselves on shore as the sound can affect their behaviour.
The regulations require the Navy to:
- Establish marine mammal safety zones around each vessel using sonar and to halt sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within these designated safety zones.
- Set up a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown if needed, and to assist NOAA's Fisheries Service if it has to come to the aid of stranded animals.
- Limit helicopter dipping sonar and object detection exercises in the North Atlantic right whale critical habitat in the southeast Atlantic Ocean from December through March.
- Minimize the impact from torpedo exercises conducted in the North Atlantic right whale critical habitat in the northeast Atlantic Ocean.
- Use cautionary measures to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes of North Atlantic right whales.