Tag Archives: Navy

Navy analysis shows higher risk to marine mammals

An Associated Press story came out even before the Navy officially published its environmental impact statement in the Federal Register.

The EIS predicted that 200 deaths and 1,600 instances of hearing loss would be suffered by marine mammals in the Navy’s testing and training ranges in Hawaii and California, reported AP writer Audrey McAvoy.

The old Navy analysis, she said, listed injuries or deaths to about 100 marine mammals.

So what caused these increased estimates of injury and death, and what are the implications for the Northwest Training and Testing Range Complex in Washington state?

It turns out that the causes are multiple and the implications many, as I reported in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

In both California-Hawaii and the Northwest, the greatest effects come from the use of sonar and explosives, which the Navy considers essential to proper training and testing. By far, the greatest number of injuries and deaths are to dolphins. But the higher numbers do not mean that the Navy will be changing its operations to a great degree. If one doesn’t read this carefully, the higher numbers are easy to get confused.

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Mystery of orca’s death only deepens with new info

The unusual death of L-112, a young female orca apparently killed by “blunt force trauma,” continues to fuel discussions about what may have killed her and what should be done about it.

Kenneth Hess, a Navy public affairs officer, posted a comment today on the recent blog entry “Balcomb wants to know if young orca was bombed.” In his comment, Hess repeats that the Navy did not conduct any training with sonar, bombs or explosives in the days preceding L-112’s death. He called it “irresponsible and inaccurate” to blame the Navy for “blowing up” the whale.

Another new development today is an e-mail I received from Lt. Diane Larose of the Canadian Navy, responding to my inquiry about any explosive devices used in the days before L-112 was found dead on Feb. 11. Read the e-mail (PDF 16 kb) I received:

“On February 6, 2012 HMCS Ottawa was operating in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, specifically in Constance Bank, conducting Work Ups Training including a period of sonar use and two small under water charges as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise. These small charges were used to get the ships’ company to react to a potential threat or damage to meet the necessary training requirement.”

In talking to experts involved in the investigation, it seems unlikely that L-112 could have been injured or killed in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then wash up dead on Long Beach five days later. So the mystery continues.

In tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun, I’m reporting that environmental groups on both sides of the Canadian border are calling on their respective navies to disclose all the specific activities during the 10 days leading up to the discovery of L-112’s carcass at Long Beach on Feb. 11. The groups also are calling for a complete cessation of sonar use for training and testing in the Salish Sea.

Check out three letters submitted to the navies involved, including one from U.S. and Canadian scientists:
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Balcomb wants to know if young orca was bombed

Ken Balcomb, the dean of killer whale research in the Northwest, has looked at the evidence and believes he knows what killed L-112, a 3-year-old female orca found along the Washington Coast in February.

L-112 in happier times. The 3-year-old orca died in February, and her death is the subject of an intense investigation.
Photo by Jeanne Hyde, Whale of a Porpoise
(Click on image to see Jeanne's tribute page)

“Clearly the animal was blown up,” he told Scott Rasmussen, a reporter for the Journal of the San Juan Islands.

When I asked Ken to explain, he provided a lot more detail and informed me that he was calling for a law-enforcement investigation into the whale’s death by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Why he is seeking more than a biological analysis of the death will become clear in a moment.

What Ken is suggesting is that L-112 was killed by a bomb, possibly dropped from an aircraft during a training event in the Navy’s Northwest Training Range off the West Coast. His evidence is circumstantial, but he wants some answers.

What we know for sure is that this young female orca washed up dead at Long Beach on Feb. 11 in relatively fresh condition, allowing a complete necropsy, including CT scans of the head and dissections of the internal organs and head.

Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with The SeaDoc Society who participated in the necropsy, said the whale showed signs of “blunt force trauma” with injury to the right and left sides of the head and right side of the body. Blunt force trauma might be what a human would experience if dropped from a helicopter onto soft ground, he explained.
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Environmental groups will boycott Navy meetings

A dozen environmental groups say they will boycott the nine “scoping meetings” the Navy is holding to kick off a new round of studies regarding testing and training activities in the Northwest.

In a letter dated March 13 (PDF 16 kb), the groups said the format of the meetings is not designed to encourage public discussion or even allow public comment. In addition, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have ignored ongoing calls for the Navy to better protect marine wildlife and the environment along the Washington Coast and other biologically important areas, they say.

Navy's Northwest testing and training ranges. Click to enlarge.
Map by U.S. Navy

The Navy will seek a new permit from NOAA for the incidental harassment of marine mammals during testing and training activities. Most of the activities are identical to what is taking place now, but some new activities are added — including the testing of sonar from ships docked at piers.

Between now and 2015, Navy officials will describe and study the effects of various activities on marine life and update existing mitigation with new research findings. See my initial story in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 27, and a related post in Water Ways, March 6. Also, you may review the official notice in the Federal Register.

Back to the letter, which states in part:

“As you know, the scoping process is the best time to identify issues and provide recommendations to agencies on what should be analyzed in the EIS. However, a process developed for activities with controversial impacts, like those at issue here, that does not provide opportunity for the public to testify or speak to a broader audience, or to hear answers to questions raised by others, and that fails to engage major population centers is not designed to help citizens and organizations effectively participate in agencies’ environmental reviews.”

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Sinclair-Dyes study: How to get ahead of pollution

The soon-to-be-released cleanup plan for Sinclair and Dyes inlets could become a leading example of how to reduce all kinds of pollution in a waterway. Check out my story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Based on conversations with many people involved in the project, I believe the keys to success are continual and ongoing monitoring of water quality, an unfailing commitment to identify pollution sources, and a spirit of cooperation with people who can help solve the problems.

Officials with the Kitsap County Health District and other local and state agencies will tell you that one can never walk away from a watershed with the belief that the pollution problem is solved. Still, at times, the rewards can be relatively quick, as one observes improvements in water quality after a pollution source is turned off.

Every month for the past 15 years, health district officials have gone out into the field and taken water samples from nearly every stream in Kitsap County — some 58 streams at last count. Often, these monthly tests provide assurance than cleanup plans are working. Occasionally, they offer an early warning that someone in the watershed is doing something to degrade water quality.

If you haven’t checked the health district’s Water Quality website, I would recommend reading through some of the reports under “Featured Water Quality Reports,” particularly the “2010 Water Quality Monitoring Report.”

Monthly water-quality testing over time tells a story about differences between wet years and dry years, about the effects of new development, and about successes that follow cleanup of problem farms, septic systems or yards containing dog feces.

I think it would be a big step forward if every significant stream in the state were monitored monthly for at least bacterial pollution. The results would help all levels of government set priorities for dealing with stormwater and other pollution sources.

Sinclair and Dyes inlets animation of hypothetical treatment system failure in East Bremerton (Click to launch; shift-reload to restart)
Project Envvest

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to the Sinclair-Dyes cleanup is the Navy’s funding for Project Envvest, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology and the Navy. The resulting computer model helped describe the flow of pollution under various rainfall scenarios. It can even predict the movement of pollution resulting from various kinds of spills.

The animation (right) shows what would happen if the ultraviolet infection system were to fail in the East Bremerton treatment plant, which handles stormwater mixed with sewage during periods of heavy rainfall. Tidal flows make a big difference. This simulated spill is 7,000 gallons per minute for a total of 10 million gallons. See CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the model.

Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes project:

Project Envvest Status, Progress, Reports, and Deliverables (Navy)

Sinclair/Dyes Inlets Water Quality Improvement Project (Ecology)

U.S. Navy becomes serious about climate change

If the world’s leaders were to learn that all civilizations on Earth were going to be attacked by alien beings from outer space, and if they knew they had only a few years to respond, what do you think they would do?

Would they search for evidence to show that aliens could not possibly exist, declare the idea a hoax and insist that any defense of our planet would not be worth the cost? Or would they study ALL the evidence, analyze the risks and look for the best way to address the uncertain crisis?

I keep thinking about this hypothetical alien scenario when I hear certain members of Congress ignoring climate change and essentially spitting in the face of climate scientists by calling their best research a “hoax.”

Greenhouse warming may seem like an alien concept to some people, but here’s my point: If you run and hide until the aliens have landed, you face a much greater peril than if you face the problem in a practical way.

Now I’m all for discussing the many uncertainties — such as how high ocean waters may rise under various assumptions. But please don’t tell me that some basement scientist has disproved the idea that temperatures are rising or has shown that humans could not possibly affect the Earth’s climate.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Would those who turn their backs on climate change act the same way if the entire Earth were under attack from a common enemy? Maybe our nation’s leaders would be better able to deal with a direct attack, uncomplicated by the uncertainties of science.

That’s more than I wanted to say about people who choose to ignore climate change. What I really wanted to write about is the U.S. Navy’s serious approach to the topic, which can provide an example for the rest of us.

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Speaking to the Navy about Hood Canal oyster deaths

I guess we can finally put to rest the question of how thousands of oysters got washed up high on the beaches of Hood Canal on Aug. 11, causing many to die in the summer sun.

Darrell Hogue of Seabeck wades into Hood Canal at Scenic Beach State Park to rescue oysters lodged high on the beach, where an estimated 178,000 were stranded.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Without explicitly blaming the USS Port Royal for the problem, Navy officials said they would take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Check out my story from Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.

A lot of Hood Canal residents believed the Port Royal was to blame, because they saw this massive 567-foot guided-missile cruiser operating at high speeds off their shores. They naturally connected the ship to the big waves hitting their beaches at the same time. I tended to believe the local people, but I wasn’t sure how anyone could actually prove that the Navy was to blame.

Perhaps the best evidence came in a video I first revealed to you in Watching Our Water Ways on Aug. 27, thanks to the taping by Gary Jackson in Dabob Bay.

After this, I tried to get some simple questions answered by the Navy, but I was frustrated by the fact that three different Navy groups were playing a role. Each one kept referring me to another, and it appeared that nobody really wanted to talk about it.

For example, the ship itself belonged to the Third Fleet, so my questions were directed to a spokesman in San Diego. Because damage claims were involved, I was directed to a spokesman for the Admiralty and Maritime Law Division of the Judge Advocate General. And because the Dabob testing range on Hood Canal is operated by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Keyport, I was directed to a spokesman for Navy Region Northwest.

After getting the runaround again and again, I asked in late September if they could talk to each other and tell me where I should address my questions. They did that and told me that I would have my questions answered by Third Fleet, where the ship is based. I went so far as to put my questions in writing so there would be no confusion. Two weeks later, my questions still were not answered, so I sent out another e-mail.

This is where I need to give credit to Sean Hughes and the other public affairs officers for Navy Region Northwest. They have always been helpful to me, and I think that leaving these questions unresolved were beginning to trouble them as well. Sean told me that he was able to take over the questions from Third Fleet and quickly get answers from local folks running the Dabob range.

I’m guessing that the issue of financial liability for loss of the oysters was creating a reluctance by Navy officials to discuss the situation. I can understand that. At the same time, I’m glad that Sean Hughes and other officials at Navy Region Northwest appreciate the need to be responsive to the local community where they operate.

Hood Canal residents still troubled by oyster washup

Evidence continues to point toward the USS Port Royal as the cause of massive numbers of oysters washing up on beaches near Seabeck as well as along Dabob Bay on the opposite side of Hood Canal.

A Navy investigator visited affected residents on Misery Point yesterday, though it remains unclear when a report may be issued. According to folks along the beach, the investigator was able to smell the stench of rotting oysters still drifting about in that area.

I’m afraid there was some initial confusion about the timing, because some people discovered the washed-up oysters on Friday, Aug. 13, and I believe they assumed the event had occurred on Thursday, Aug. 12. Witnesses on both sides of Hood Canal have now confirmed that the Port Royal was speeding up and down Dabob Bay on Wednesday, Aug. 11.

One witness who documented the event is Gary Jackson, who owns property on Dabob Bay. In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, he said his small unoccupied boat and two others were swamped by the wake. (Click here to download his letter (PDF 36 kb), and check out the video above.)
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Oyster rescue planned at Scenic Beach State Park

State shellfish biologists are organizing a volunteer work party to rescue oysters that apparently were washed up high on the beach at Scenic Beach State Park by a Navy ship.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal operates off the coast of Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2008.
U.S. Navy photo

The USS Port Royal, a 567-foot guided-missile cruiser, was operating in the Navy’s Dabob Bay testing range on Thursday, and the oysters were found high up on the private beaches across Hood Canal the next morning.

Camille Speck, a shellfish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, inspected the waterfront at Scenic Beach State Park on Tuesday. She told me that she was surprised at how far some of the oysters had been moved:

“I have never seen a scour line that high on the beach. The oysters are alive, but I can tell they have been thrown around a little bit.”

Frankly, I have never heard of this kind of damage from any ship, and I don’t blame readers for being skeptical. But there seems to be no question that the oysters were washed up on the beach, that the Navy ship was in the vicinity about that time, and that a ship of this size is capable of producing a huge wake. It’s called circumstantial evidence, at least until I find someone who actually saw something happening.

Here are the stories I’ve written on the subject so far:

Ship’s Wake Prompts Oysters to Wash Up on Shore Near Seabeck (Aug. 13)

Residents Assessing Oyster Damage From Ship’s Wake (Aug. 16)

Volunteers Sought for Oyster Rescue Effort in Seabeck (Aug. 18)

Several years ago, residents living along Rich Passage between South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island complained that the wake of high-speed passenger-only ferries were washing away the gravel and undercutting their concrete and rock bulkheads. Washington State Ferries was ultimately forced to pull the ferries out of service. Local officials are still hoping they can find a ferry that can make it from Bremerton to Seattle in about half an hour without creating wake damage.

I’ve also heard complaints from shoreline property owners about wakes from huge freighters. Such comments have come up during discussions about revised shoreline regulations that could become part of Kitsap County’s Shorelines Master Program. Some folks who live on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula say wakes from these massive cargo ships cause more damage to habitat than anything a shoreline owner might do.

If true, it may be time to address the wake issue, beginning with studies of actual damage caused when the ships come through. Do we need government intervention? I can’t say, but rules to control wakes could be problematic, because the movement of ships is mostly controlled by the federal government.

Some sonar questions are answered, others remain

The Navy has decided not to conduct training exercises involving sonar within Puget Sound. That information was revealed in a proposed incidental take permit for the Northwest Training Range Complex, now subject to public review under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

While this decision no doubt will be a good thing for area marine mammal populations, I’m still a bit confused about the extent to which sonar may be used in non-training conditions.

Use of sonar in the testing of equipment and new technologies will come under a separate take permit for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, based at Keyport.

But, according to a statement I received from the Navy, that still leaves open the use of sonar for “safety and navigation,” “testing,” and “maintenance.”

As I understand the process, if the Navy were to harm marine mammals in one of these procedures without obtaining a take permit in advance, the Navy would be in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The potential exists for such harm, given the experience earlier this year with the fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco. The submarine was found to be using sonar, which was picked up loudly on hydrophones miles away. The submarine was in the Strait of Juan de Fuca after it left Bremerton after undergoing repairs.

It appears there were no killer whales in the area. But nobody could be sure about other marine mammals, since it was dark during much of the time the sonar was being used.

To keep things in perspective, the Navy has made progress in its effort to come into compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While there may always be disagreement about the level of protection necessary, the Navy is explaining its operations more and working cooperatively with other agencies to reduce the harm to wildlife.

It turns out that the proposed incidental take permit for the Northwest Training Range (PDF 1.3 mb) serves as a nice primer to help us understand Navy exercises, sonar technology, types of sonar and their specific uses, potential effects on marine mammals and the history of Navy exercises where marine mammals have been killed.

Similarly, a proposed permit for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (PDF 1.1 mb) offers extensive information about the use of sonar in testing advanced equipment and related activities.