Reduce the risk to orcas from Navy training and testing

Orca swimming
Photo: Center for Whale Research

 

This year, the Aquarium has been working hard to raise our collective voice in support of our southern resident orca population. Washington state has taken important steps, but we still have work to do as the southern resident population has fallen to only 73 members, the lowest number since the 1970s.

Recently, the U.S. Navy has proposed plans to increase the frequency of several activities—including warfare testing and sonar testing—in the waters of the Northwest, within southern resident orca critical habitat. We have shared how noise can impact orcas who rely heavily on echolocation and vocalizations to hunt and communicate with each other. The Navy’s proposed activities increase the risks to our southern resident population. We hope you will join us by lending your voice in support of protecting our vulnerable orcas.

 

TAKE ACTION: SUBMIT PUBLIC COMMENT IN SUPPORT OF OUR ORCAS

 

In 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared that southern resident orcas are one of the marine species most at risk of extinction nationwide, and their numbers have diminished since then. The Navy is currently requesting authorization for the number of acoustic and explosive impacts they can make to our southern resident and transient orca population (i.e., sounds that harass orcas and interfere with feeding and breeding).

We believe that we should be working to decrease the threats facing endangered orcas, and the Navy’s proposed activities put the population at risk. Please lend your support by emailing public comment and a personal note about why you care about orcas to the email address below.

 

Please send an email to ITP.Piniak@noaa.gov by September 5. Here is a sample comment:

Dear National Marine Fisheries Service,

I am writing in opposition to the U.S. Navy’s proposed increase of two behavioral impacts per year to our southern resident orca population. The southern resident orca population is at risk of extinction and it is critical we take more steps to protect this iconic species.

<Consider inserting a personal note about why orcas are important to you>

The proposed increase in training and testing activities will put orcas at risk and we encourage you to ask the Navy to 1) examine and adjust the timing of their activities, such as through seasonal closures to minimize overlap with orcas; 2) require additional monitoring and protections in the orcas’ offshore habitat, where most of the training and testing impacts will occur; and 3) use new whale presence alert systems rather than just relying on lookouts.

Sincerely,

<Insert your name and address>

 

WHY OUR INPUT MATTERS

 

There are only 73 southern resident orcas in the population today and only 14 females have successfully had calves in the last 10 years. Any impact through harassment, behavioral disturbance, or displacement would therefore be significant. We also question whether the Navy’s estimate of two affected orcas per year from acoustic disturbance is realistic given that pods of orcas travel together.

We are also concerned about Navy’s very high number of anticipated impacts on west coast transient orcas: a total of 1,384 harassment incidents between 2020-2027 on a population of approximately 243 transient orcas. These orcas, which frequent our waters, are listed as threatened in Canada. We need to make sure that activities are not putting them on a trajectory like that of the endangered southern residents.

The Seattle Aquarium is urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to reject this request for authorization due to its inadequate protections for southern resident orcas and require the Navy to resubmit their application with significantly improved monitoring and mitigation strategies.

 

THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND SIGN UP FOR UPDATES

 

Thank you for lending your voice in support of orcas. If you are interested in learning more about ocean-related policy or actions you can take to support our advocacy work please join our email list to receive the latest updates and breaking news!

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