New U.S. Navy testing off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts will pose a danger for orca whales, environmentalists say.
The Obama administration recently approved a plan to expand sailor training, weapons testing, and underwater training minefield for submarines in the 122,400 nautical square miles off the West Coast.
The Navy has been training in that range since World War II, but environmentalists worry that new missile and sonar testing along with the dumping of depleted uranium could harm the population of 150 orcas known to live along the Pacific coast.
Howard Garrett, the president of the Washington-based nonprofit Orca Network, claims the hazardous materials could pose a serious risk for vulnerable orcas.
“They’re all very susceptible,” Garrett told AP. “The Navy is single-minded and they’re focused, and the whales are very much a secondary concern to them.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council also expressed concern over the new program, saying it “would pose a significant risk to whales, fish and other wildlife,” by releasing “thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium,” and other hazardous materials, AP reported Saturday.
The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar testing could damage the orca navigation and communication skills and could even cause brain damage and affect reproductive rates, the NRDC said.
But Navy officials maintain that the expanded practices will have no effect on marine life.
“We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. … What people don’t seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody,” Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray said, according to AP. “It’s our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment.”
Garrett remains skeptical. “I’m not convinced by the assurances that the Navy gives that there will be no effect,” Garrett said. “I can’t imagine there won’t be mortalities.”