28 December 2010

Environmentalists say Navy testing along Pacific coast may hurt whales

As whale watchers in Oregon and Washington are lining up along the coast to view the annual migration of thousands of grey whales to Mexico, environmentalists are expressing concern over new plans to expand Navy testing along the Pacific coast.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has expressed concern that the testing, which will be conducted along the Washington, Oregon and California coasts will pose a danger to whales and other marine life. Along with the migrating whales, the area between Washington and California is home to 150 orca whales.

The Obama administration has approved a measure for increased sailor training, weapons testing and underwater minefield training for submarines. The testing is to take place in the Navy’s Northwest Training range along the Pacific coast, which is roughly the size of California. The area has been used for training since World War II.

In a letter to the Navy expressing their concern, The NRDC wrote the plan "would pose significant risk to whales, fish and other wildlife." The organization also said they feared the testing would release a variety of hazardous materials into coastal waters, including "thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, and depleted uranium.”

The NRDC is also concerned that noise created by the sonar used in the underwater testing could interfere with whales' ability to communicate and hamper their navigational skills. Chronic noise is also known to interfere with whales' brain development and depress reproductive rates, the council said.

Navy officials have denied the testing will hurt marine life and plan to go ahead with the expanded operations.

"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," said Sheila Murray, a Navy spokeswoman. "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."

Robin Lawless | @robmlaw | email
Robin lives in New York City where she loves to check out all the vegan eateries. When she's not writing for TDIV, Robin enjoys taking dance lessons, reading, practicing yoga, hanging out with her cat Maggie, baking vegan treats, and volunteering at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Feel free to add Robin as a friend on Facebook.

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