If you’ve ever lived near a military base, you know how loud things can get. It’s a young man’s dream: the keys to a bunch of shit that’ll blow the hell out of everything (with the government’s approval to test it) chewing tobacco, and being a goddamn hero. There are a few people, though, who aren’t exactly happy with something the U.S. Air Force wants to do off the coast of Kauai.
“The Air Force has proposed dropping about 100 bombs per year, some as large as 300 pounds, on waters north of Kauai,” Michael Jasny, an expert in ocean noise pollution and (get ready for the longest title ever) director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told The Dodo. “It says it will keep whales and dolphins out of harm’s way by looking for them on the surface, but that’s no easy task in the heavy waters around the islands.”
In short, there are a lot of people worried that the Air Force’s bomb testing is going to affect the way whales and dolphins behave. Both use sound for navigation and communication, and opponents of the Air Force’s bomb tests are worried that “the way the animals breed, migrate, eat and nurse their young could be disrupted.”
Called The Long Range Strike Weapons Systems Evaluation Program, the tests would detonate missiles and bombs either on the surface of the ocean or just below the surface for five years. Although estimating exactly how badly these tests will affect wildlife, researchers are trying. Right now, they think that around 40 marine animals will be permanently deafened and nearly 400 will sustain a temporary loss of hearing.
The agency that would eventually approve the testing, the National Marine Fisheries Service, received a letter of complaint from a variety of concerned groups. The NRDC, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Earthjustice and the Ocean Mammal Institute all signed it.
While it might sound like a strange thing to be worried about, ocean noise does have a huge impact on whales and dolphins. “Without the ability to hear, they are rendered unable to perform the most basic tasks necessary to their survival,” reads a petition to stop the Air Force. “Noise from military testing, as well as commercial shipping and oil and gas exploration, has caused trauma, deafness, and led to the mass beachings and deaths of dolphins and whales around the world.”
Although Michael Jasny would prefer to see the Air Force’s plan stopped in its tracks, he’s got another option: “At the very least, the Air Force should use the Navy’s network of hydrophones (or underwater microphones) to help detect these vulnerable species around its bomb site,” Jasny explained. “It should keep to the northern end of the training area, where the islands’ resident whales and dolphins are less likely to go. Otherwise, the Air Force would be taking unnecessary risks in one of the most remarkable spots for marine mammals on the planet.”