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Balancing naval technology, marine conservation

From now until July 23, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive public comments on the proposed authorization for Navy sonar training exercises around the main Hawaiian Islands that includes measures to protect marine life from the sonic frequencies, according to a recent press release.

The Navy is requesting these practices be done by requesting authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The tactical sonar used and the sound and pressure caused by detonating test explosives has been shown to affect the behavior of marine mammals or cause temporary loss to their hearing. The draft authorization allows for incidental impacts on the mammals, stating that the deaths of only 10 animals of each of 10 species over the five years of the authorization will be allowed, according to the report.

The mitigations the Navy would have to adhere to include establishing mammal safety zones around each vessel deploying the sonar, shutting down the sonar if a mammal is found within the designated safety zones, use of exclusion zones to ensure explosives are not detonated when creatures of any kind are detected within a certain radius, and using extra caution in the area of the Maui Basin because of the high volume of humpback whales, according to the report.

The Navy has been conducting these tests with sonar in the Hawaiian Islands for the last 40 years. Comments on this new authorization protecting marine life can be addressed to Michael Payne, chief of the permits, conservation, and education division for the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD20910. Comments also can be submitted electronically at

using the identifier 0648AW86 no later than July 23. For information, visit

— Elizabeth Ellis