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Navy testing of sonar system in Gulf won’t harm dolphins or whales, concludes NOAA

Bottlenose dolphins

The U.S. Navy’s plans to test a mine reconnaissance sonar system in the Gulf of Mexico will have a “negligible impact” on 29 different species of marine mammals that inhabit the area -- including various dolphins and whales -- and, thus, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has authorized the Navy to proceed with its R&D and testing program.

In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has completed a study of the potential impact that the use of the AN/AQS-20A Mine Reconnaissance Sonar System, known as the Q-20, might have on the marine life that inhabits the non-territorial waters of the Gulf. NOAA published its study in the Federal Register on August 16.

“The purpose of the Navy’s activities is to meet the developmental testing requirements of the Q-20 system by verifying its performance in a realistic ocean and threat environment and supporting its integration with the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) and ultimately the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS),” explained a notice by NOAA announcing its issuance of what’s called an “incidental harassment authorization” to the Navy.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Panama City (FL) Division plans to use a test range in the Gulf from April 2012 through April 2013, says the notice.

During a 30-day comment period earlier this year, only two comments were submitted --  one from a private citizen who opposed the planned test program out of concern for the possibility of “severe injuries and killings to thousands of marine mammals,” and one from the Marine Mammal Commission, which suggested that the Navy extend its monitoring period for 15 minutes before and after the actual testing activities, a recommendation which the Navy accepted.

NOAA concluded that of the 29 marine mammals in the area, only six species -- all of them dolphins – “may be exposed to noise levels that constitute a ‘take’,” said the notice. (A "take" is military jargon for the unintentional harassment, harming or killing of a living specie.) But the possible adverse effects from this sonar testing are not expected to become significant, the study concluded.


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