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Date Posted:14:13:39 05/25/08 Sun Author:Endangered Specie Subject: NAVY ON ALERT FOR MARINE MAMMALS WHILE TRAINING
May 19, 2008
NAVY ON ALERT FOR MARINE MAMMALS WHILE TRAINING
By William Cole, Advertiser Columnist
When the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group conducts anti-submarine warfare training off Hawai'i this month, the Navy will be playing a tense cat-and-mouse game not only with submarines, but also with a more slippery opponent — marine mammals.
It's not that the Navy dislikes whales and dolphins, but after being slapped with a series of lawsuits over the potential harm caused by active sonar "pings," the service has to be more wary of the sea creatures.
Increasingly, that requirement has come via federal court order. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, thinks there might be another way.
The House Armed Services Committee last week approved $67.45 million in funding for defense projects in Hawai'i, including $8.5 million for further research, development and installation of marine mammal detection systems on Navy aircraft.
"I'm very pleased to be able to kind of take the lead on this so we can get out of the courtroom, and into the area of trying to resolve the issues once and for all," Abercrombie said. "This is one of the most serious and contentious issues in the military today."
BAE Systems in Hawai'i has been involved in the development of an airborne survey system that "automatically and harmlessly" detects the presence, location, and movement of marine mammals, according to Abercrombie's office.
The project adapts work done for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense to the needs of the U.S. Navy, and integrates it with sensor technology developed by BAE Systems in Hawai'i.
Abercrombie said it's "still a bit theoretical" and still in the realm of research and development.
Of the $8.5 million approved in committee last week, BAE Systems would receive $6 million for the "Marine Mammal Awareness, Alert and Response Systems" project.
The other $2.5 million would go to Guide Star Engineering for something called the "In-buoy Signal Processor."
Abercrombie's office said that project seeks to alter the sonobuoys that the Navy already drops from aircraft so they detect marine mammals as well as enemy subs.
Among requirements ordered by a federal judge in Honolulu in February were "safety zones," including the need for the Navy to power down active sonar by 6 decibels when a marine mammal is spotted within 1,500 meters of a sonar-emitting vessel.
The sonar power must be stepped down the closer the animal is, and within 500 meters, all sonar transmission must cease.
U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement afterward that the restrictions "could seriously impact our ability to train effectively."
At least 26 species of marine mammals frequent Hawai'i waters.
The use of mid-frequency Navy sonar was determined to be a "plausible, if not likely" contributing factor to the mass stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay during Rim of the Pacific naval exercises in 2004....