Military training could be hurting the orcas | Editorial

When the bloody, battered body of a young killer whale washed ashore north of Long Beach, Wash., it was clear her death was not from natural causes.

The orca, known as “Sooke,” was a member of the Southern resident killer whales, which make their seasonal home in the San Juans and were declared endangered under federal law in 2005.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said trauma on the body, head and tissues in Sooke’s jaw were strikingly similar to injuries he witnessed in a group of beaked whales several years ago in the Bahamas. He said they stranded themselves on a beach shortly after a military ship passed by with its sonar engaged.

This incident begs the question: what happened to Sooke?

An underwater network of hydrophones that reach from the west side of San Juan Island to Port Angeles and out to Neah Bay picked up sounds of sonar about four days before the orca was found. Yet the U.S. military has commented that no training was conducted in the area at least a month before Sooke was stranded.

Any federal agency that conducts activities that may impact the orca population is required to undergo a consultation with National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in a biological opinion. Then a letter of authorization may be issued for non-lethal “takes.” No killing is allowable.

According to Balcomb, the U. S. Navy entered into consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning possible takes of marine mammals in the Northwest Training Range Complex that extends in patches along the Pacific coast from Neah Bay to California, out to a distance 250 nautical miles offshore. The authorized training activities involve dropping 110 bombs with a 100 percent kill efficiency for any living thing within 37.8 meters in air.  Underwater the kill distance is much greater. Hearing loss and lung damage will occur at an even greater distance.

Citizens have until April 27 to provide public comment on an environmental impact statement under way by the Navy for possible expansion of activities within the “training range.”

While we understand the need for military training, we urge you to find out more at http://goo.gl/hE2hb. Unless you think bruised and beaten whales washing ashore is not a problem.