US Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service work on Pacific Northwest sonar guidelines

Infamous USS Shoup incedent

Infamous USS Shoup incedent

“The July 13 Federal Register reported that the Navy wants NMFS to permit up to 14 dead marine mammals from its proposed sonar use up to 250 miles from the Northwest coast…”

In ongoing discussions about defining the Pacific Northwest warfare training ground, NMFS is being asked to weigh in on sonar guidelines.

The entire plan has been getting a lot of public attention this last year because it apparently includes provisions to lob missiles over Seattle and other coastal cities into eastern Washington. (…and who wants to be living in a missile firing range?)

The regional sensitivity around the Mid-frequency sonar derives from a nasty affair in Washington’s Haro Straits involving the Navy Destroyer USS Shoup molesting the Puget Sound J-pod orcas and probably killing some 11 harbor porpoises in the area.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer article is pretty candid about the nature of the threats and risks, but the high take levels requested in the Federal Register are a bit stunning. I have not read the actual Request for Incidental Take Permit, so I don’t know how they came up with “14 dead.”  Perhaps it was taking the eleven dead from the Haro Strait incident and tossing in a few more for good measure…

I am also not a military strategist so I can’t comment with any authority about the Navy’s perceived threats. But I would suspect that there is a degree of institutional momentum here that could be combed through much as Congress did on the recent F-22 debacle (dog-fighter airplanes designed around the cold war threat of MIG-25’s).

I believe we have the responsibility to step back a few steps and do a risk/benefits analysis on the entire program being proposed. We might find that just like the F-22 fighter jets, we don’t really need to “incidentally” kill marine mammals to secure our coasts and military assets.

The public comment period on the draft plan will be out in the fall. More words to come.