Over the next five years, the U.S. Navy will conduct a series of training exercises in coastal waters throughout the country -- and though these are merely 'war games' to improve military readiness in the event of a real conflict, the projected casualties are nevertheless staggeringly high.
The Navy Times reports that training with live munitions is scheduled to take place from 2014 to 2019 in the waters off of the East Coast, Southern California, Hawaii, and in the Gulf of Mexico. During that period, the Navy estimates that a significant impact on marine life will result from these exercises, primarily from the use of underwater explosives and sonar.
An environmental impact report was released late last week, summarized here by the Associated Press:
According to the reports, computer models show training and testing may kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California.
Off the East Coast, there could be 11,267 serious injuries and 1.89 million minor injuries such as temporary hearing loss. The reports also said the testing and training might cause marine mammals to change their behavior — such as swimming in a different direction — in 20 million instances.
Off Hawaii and Southern California, the reports said the naval activities may cause 2,039 serious injuries, 1.86 million temporary injuries and 7.7 million instances of behavioral change.
Navy director of energy and environmental readiness, Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, told reporters that, despite the deaths and injuries expected to be inflicted upon marine life, such exercises are a necessary part of naval training:
"Without this realistic testing and training, our sailors can't develop or maintain the critical skills they need or ensure the new technologies can be operated effectively."
This isn't the first time Navy training operations have been associated with loss of marine life. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar, despite it being associated with beachings, hearing loss, and disorientation in dolphins, whales, and seals. In their ruling, the Court said that Navy activities were more important than marine health.
Deaths from bombings have been less documented, though biologists have noted that beached carcasses occasionally bear signs of underwater explosions. Ken Balcomb, from the Center for Whale Research in Washington, says that even protected waters, home to endangered species, are regularly bombed:
“There’s been a number of whales over the past years that have washed ashore with what’s usually described as blunt-force trauma. Many of them—and I’ve seen four myself—are consistent with a blast-type trauma of this nature.”