Did you see all of the posts on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and blog posts around the Internet screaming that the Navy wants to kill or deafen thousands of whales and dolphins?
The petition reads, “Stop the killing of 1,800 whales and dolphins and the deafening of 15,900 more by ceasing the operation of the Navy's underwater sound system in the Hawaiian Islands, the California and Atlantic Coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico.”
It has already been signed by 458,000 people, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong.
I spent three days reading through the 3,414 pages of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) from the U.S. Navy and found that what the well-intentioned environmentalists are signing has been so blown out of proportion that it has more in common with a Cold War scare tactic than with scientific truth.
The petition creator, Lyndia Storey, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are unable or unwilling to refer to the specific pages that support those numbers.
If I told you that Jesus said all redheads will go to heaven, for example, shouldn’t I be able to point to the verse in the Bible where that was stated? It’s not there. Neither is this.
The reports say that over a five-year period 13,330 mammals could have hearing injuries akin to a human going to a loud rock concert and 60 beached whales could die from Navy sonar. This would only be true if the military takes no preventative measures -- something they are already doing.
Before you start screaming about even those massively lower numbers be aware that they have been exaggerated to present an absolute worst-case projection. The report deliberately states higher than possible numbers in order to protect the Navy, which has been sued dozens of times by environmentalists.
In fact the Navy says that according to its studies no animals will be killed from sonar. No whale has died, they say, since 2008 when the Navy had to operate under a National Marine Fisheries permit, the terms of which the Navy will continue.
The thought of any dolphins or whales dying needlessly upsets me. Ships in the sea kill animals. Cargo and passenger ships kill as many as nine whales a year, according to the Whale Strike Database. Navy ships and sonar defense can also cause some deaths, but how do you measure that against national security?
I love nature and consider myself an environmentalist. I care about whales and dolphins and have contributed money to these causes in the past particularly the NRDC, based in San Francisco, which focuses time and money on protecting marine life.
The NRDC successfully and rightfully sued the Navy winning or settling in 2003, 2006, and 2008 to stop or limit the use of powerful sonar which could have killed sea mammals along the whole West Coast.
The Navy uses sonar, an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging, for searching out enemy submarines and mines, like in the movies Das Boot, The Hunt For Red October and Crimson Tide. Don’t think those hunts are just fictional. They are being done today just as they were during the Cold War and China has recently upped their military spending to over $100 billion while launching new, possibly silent submarines. They aren’t building them for pleasure cruises.
According to the New York Times, “China has a fleet of diesel-electric attack submarines, which can operate quietly and effectively in waters near China’s shore to threaten foreign warships.”
Early sonar did in fact kill dolphins and whales because it was too powerful, cast too wide a net and was used too close to shore. Now the Navy only uses certain types of sonar at specific times within 12 nautical miles of shore.
On top of that, in a move that might surprise petition signers, the Navy has used ships and planes to scout out larger whales and even dolphins to make sure the movable sonar was shut off when they were nearby. The Navy’s future plan is to cast the submarine-listening sonar net from only four ships around the world in shorter blasts that will have less possible effect on marine life.
In the past year there have been no sea mammal deaths directly attributable to Naval war exercises and drills. Zero.
So the numbers are nowhere near what the petition claims. And the real numbers never even take into consideration the vast methods employed by dedicated lookout personnel and other people watching on ships and aircraft.
What does the NRDC have to say about all of this? Jessica Lass, NRDC Senior Press Secretary, upped her figures in an email exchange saying that the Navy will cause “...more than 15,000 instances of permanent hearing loss, almost 9,000 lung injuries, and more than 1,800 deaths from the use of sonar and explosives.”
Explosives? Those weren’t mentioned in the petition.
When pressed for where in the thousands of pages specifically these numbers are derived the response was, “You can read the Navy’s reports here: http://hstteis.com/ and http://aftteis.com/ .” Those two websites simply contain the thousands of pages of EIS reports without ever pointing to the locations in those pages to support the claims.
Shouldn’t we expect better from non-profit organizations?
The NRDC is not supposed to be a political organization but one, according to its own website, that is “...the nation's most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.”
Unfortunately what is being presented in this fast-breeding petition is yet another example of politics driven by fear.
Keep vigilant on protecting the environment. Protect our mammals of the sea. Keep watch on the military as Samuel Adams advised in 1768.
“Even when there is a necessity of the military power within a land,” he said. “A wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and jealous eye over it."
But don’t let fear-mongering take over and dilute legitimate issues.
Syndicated talk radio host Ethan Bearman can be heard on his show, Smoke-Filled World, Sundays 4-6 p.m. Pacific time on KOMY 1340 AM and 6-8 pm on KSCO 1080 AM discussing this topic and other current events at http://www.gcnlive.com/programs/smokeFilledwld/ . He also writes regularly on his blog at http://www.smokefilledworld.com