Pacific Northwest
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WA - Navy Receives Approval for Exercises That Could Increase Harm to Washington Orcas

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has approved a request from the U.S. Navy to continue military exercises in Puget Sound and coastal Washington waters that could potentially harm the endangered Southern Resident orca population.

The approval of the Navy's proposal will increase the potential "take" of Southern Resident orcas -- "take" means the attempted or actual harassment, hunting, capturing or killing of any marine mammal. Currently, the Navy is authorized to take up to two Southern Resident orcas per year, but the new rule will allow it to take up to 51 orcas per year until 2027.

The testing and training involves various activities, including firing torpedoes and projectiles, detonating bombs, piloting undersea drones and using sonar.

The increase in the number of takes comes after Naval studies showed the population of Southern Resident killer whales in the sound was far denser than previous models showed.

According to the ruling, which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 12, the approval of the Navy's proposal came with several provisions to limit the Navy's impact on marine life. They include but are not limited to:

  • The use of defined power-down and shutdown zones based on marine mammal activity.
  • Measures to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes.
  • Activity limitations in certain areas and times that are biologically important for marine mammals.

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