NOAA 03-049
Contact: Connie Barclay
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Studies Might Disturb Small Numbers of Marine Mammals

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is seeking comments on a proposed authorization for the U.S. Navy to potentially disturb a small number of seals and sea lions during target missile launches near the western end of San Nicolas Island in California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Commerce Department.

The Navy uses target missile launches from San Nicolas Island to support test and training activities associated with operations on the Navy's Point Mugu Sea Range. Navy officials anticipate a total of up to 40 launches annually, between August, 2003, and August, 2008.

The Navy plans to use the Vandal target missile and smaller supersonic and subsonic targets, such as the Exocet, Tomahawk and Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) during these activities. Sounds generated by the launches of Vandal target missiles and the smaller targets as they depart launch sites on San Nicolas Island towards operational areas in the Point Mugu Sea Range have the potential to disturb marine mammals.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) administered by NOAA Fisheries, the Navy applied for a permit to incidentally harass, or take*, a small number of harbor seals, northern elephant seals, California sea lions that may be on beaches near the launch sites and exposed to sounds from rocket boosters and the high-speed passage of the missiles launched from the island on route to the sea range.

While the number of potential incidental harassments will depend on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals in the vicinity of launch operations, the Navy expects the number to be small.

In addition, no injury or death is anticipated and the possibility of temporary or permanent hearing impairment is low. To reduce the potential for harassment or hearing impairment, the proposed authorization would require the Navy to incorporate mitigation measures such as limiting launch activities during pinniped pupping seasons, not launching targets at low elevations or along paths that pass close to beach haul-out sites, and limiting launch activities during the night.

Monitoring by biological observers will include video documentation and acoustical measurements on beach haul-out sites near missile launch sites. The observers will estimate the number of animals of each species present at the haul-out sites, the levels and characteristics of received sound at the haul-out sites, and the reactions of marine mammals to the noise.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

NOAA Fisheries will accept comments on the Navy's application and the proposed rule through June 9, 2003. Comments should be addressed to the Chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division; Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries; 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. A copy of the application and Federal Register notice may be obtained by contacting the same office.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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* Editor’s Note: The MMPA allows for the incidental disturbance, called a take, of small numbers of marine mammals. NOAA Fisheries must determine, based on the best science available, that these takings will have only a negligible impact on affected marine mammals, will not have any irreversible adverse impact on the availability of species or stocks involved for subsistence uses, and regulations exist for the permissible methods of taking and for the monitoring and reporting of such taking.