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NOAA issues more protective rules for marine mammals

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it has authorized new rules that are more protective of marine mammals during U.S. Naval training and testing exercises in the Pacific than ever proposed in the past.

NOAA said on Thursday that the new rules under the Marine Mammal Protection Act — the third authorized in a series of five-year regulations for the Navy’s Hawaii-Southern California training and testing activities — will allow for only incidental, not intentional, “takes” of marine mammals, and cover a larger area, through December 2023.

By “take,” NOAA means the disruption of behavioral patterns or temporary hearing impairment among marine mammals, as well as some significantly lesser number of injuries and a very small number of mortalities.

“The Navy has balanced our conservation requirements for marine mammals with their critical national security requirements for training and military readiness,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, acting undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA, in a news release. “As the acting NOAA administrator and a retired Navy admiral, I know this is a win-win for marine mammal protection and national defense.”

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service regularly evaluates the predicted impacts of human activities on protected marine species and may require other agencies and entities to modify their activities. NOAA said it worked with the Navy to develop a robust monitoring plan, with strict reporting measures. The new rules also allow for measures to be modified, when appropriate, based on new information., when appropriate.

“NOAA has been working with the Navy for more than ten years to understand the effects the Navy’s testing and training has on marine mammals and, over time, we have steadily increased the protections in place,” said Donna Weiting, director of NMFS’s office of protected resources in a statement.

Under the new rules, NOAA also requires the following:

>> Shutting down sonar when marine mammals are in the area;

>> Waiting for animals to leave the training range prior to use of in-water explosives, and monitoring of the area post-activity to detect potentially affected protected species;

>> Following protocols to reduce the likelihood of ships striking marine mammals;

>> Imposing operational limitations in certain areas and times that are biologically important (for example, reproduction, migration, foraging); and

>> Implementing a Notification and Reporting Plan for dead, stranded, or struck animals.

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