Navy to proceed with Marianas training plan

DEEP DIVERS: Cuvier’s beaked whales spend time at the surface between long, deep foraging dives, as shown in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Anne Simonis/NOAA Fisheries 

The Navy announced Thursday it is moving forward, based on a record of decision, to use parts of the Marianas Archipelago for training among multiple branches of the military.

The Navy has decided to "continue training and testing activities within the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Study Area. Alternative 2," it stated, in part.

This will allow the Navy, other U.S. military services and the U.S. Coast Guard to fully meet current and future training and testing requirements, the statement added.

"The Navy is committed to being a good steward of the environment and will continue to implement mitigation measures to avoid or reduce potential environmental impacts from training and testing," its statement added.

The following types of training and testing, which are classified as military readiness activities pursuant to the MMPA, as amended by the 2004 NDAA, would be covered under the regulations and LOA (if authorized): Amphibious warfare (in-water detonations), anti-submarine warfare (sonar and other transducers, in-water detonations), surface warfare (in-water detonations), and other testing and training (sonar and other transducers). The activities would not include any pile driving/removal or use of air guns.

In addition, the Navy stated it will continue to work with its "valued partners in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam in an enduring process to share information and address concerns."

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Friday said she is aware of the Navy's plan. 

She said she wants to continue talks with the military on her administration's concerns about the impact of sonar on marine mammals.

In a study released in February, a team of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration academic scientists examined eight stranding events of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Mariana Archipelago since 2007.

"They found that three of these strandings occurred either during or within six days after naval anti-submarine sonar operations," according to the study.

Local biologists have been recording marine mammal strandings in the Mariana Archipelago for more than 25 years. However, no records of beaked whale strandings occurred until 2007, when a single Cuvier’s beaked whale stranded on Guam, according to NOAA's fisheries division. Since 2007, one or more Cuvier’s beaked whales have stranded on Guam on seven occasions, and on Saipan once, NOAA Fisheries added.

In January, NOAA Fisheries reported in the Federal register that certain types of military training and testing, which are classified as military readiness activities, are being proposed including: amphibious warfare, including in-water detonations; and anti-submarine warfare, including sonar and other in-water detonations.

World record holders among marine mammals

Beaked whales are the world record holders for the deepest and longest dives among marine mammals: 9,816 feet and 137.5 minutes, respectively, NOAA stated.

"Given their long dives and preference for deepwater habitats, we rarely see beaked whales at the surface. As a result, researchers have not yet been able to estimate the population size of Cuvier's beaked whales in the Mariana Archipelago," according to NOAA.

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