The Navy has agreed to restrict noisy training activities in certain parts of the Atlantic Ocean in order to help save the North Atlantic right whale. The whale species, whose total population is pegged at less than 500, is critically endangered and experts warn it could reach extinction by 2040. The Navy will now curtail some of its activity in the region over fears that it could be contributing to the species' demise.
Navy Times that the U.S. Navy will limit the use of active sonar and explosions along certain portions of the Eastern Seaboard from mid-November. Virginian-Pilot, most of the restricted area is within 50 miles of the coastline, although it also extends to 100 miles off the coast of Florida.
Another activity the Navy has agreed to restrict is shock testing, in which several tons of explosives are detonated underwater near a new warship to test its durability in wartime. Shock tests frequently take place off the coast of Florida, and the Navy has agreed not to shock test near its Jacksonville operating area between November 15 and April 15—the season when North Atlantic right whales are born.
The North Atlantic right whale is a baleen whale that uses a filter-feeder system to consume krill. Right whales were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers in the 19th century, and the population has not rebounded like many other whale species. There are an , with just 100 females capable of reproduction. They are known as “urban whales,” because they tend to stick close to the shoreline—a tendency that makes them vulnerable to collisions with ships.
The U.S. Navy at times generates quite a bit of underwater noise in activities ranging from anti-submarine warfare to ship testing. One major culprit in harming whales, according to environmental activists, is active sonar. Active sonar broadcasts sound waves through the ocean that reflect off underwater objects, ideally detecting enemy submarines. These sonar noises can burst , and are thought to cause considerable harm to whales, including driving them to self-injury and death.
As part of the Navy’s efforts, warships will broadcast messages to commercial ships with the location of whale sightings.
The Navy has frequently been at odds with environmentalists over whale protections, with groups insisting the Navy’s use of active sonar and underwater explosions harms whales, producing everything from physical injuries to negative impacts on social behavior. The U.S. Navy has implemented some measures to ameliorate the concerns, as a 2016 video by Fleet Forces Command explains:
The new restrictions on training come as the U.S. Navy is beginning to take anti-submarine warfare seriously again. The rise of the Chinese Navy and Russian cruise missile submarine threats is reorienting the Navy back to detecting, tracking, and destroying enemy subs. The threat of Russian cruise missile submarines such as the Borei-class subs is deemed important enough that the Navy recently reactivated its Cold War–era to deal with the problem.