Navy Decision Threatens Endangered Right Whales

Warfare training facility near Florida runs through right whale territory

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 Right whales are called such because years ago whale hunters thought these particular whales were simply the "right" ones to hunt. Their distinct V-shaped blow of water alerted whalers, and their habit of swimming near the surface made them easy targets.

Now, decades later, these endangered whales are swimming into danger again because of their propensity to swim near the surface.

The latest obstacle: the U.S. Navy plans to construct a massive Undersea Warfare Training Range (often referred to by its cumbersome acronym, UWTR) directly in the calving grounds of right whales in a 644-square mile plot of ocean off the coast of Florida.

The Navy said yesterday that it plans to proceed with construction of the site before it obtains the proper approvals for the entire project. This attempt to make an end run around environmental protections puts right whales in the line of fire as high speed Navy vessels cut directly through right whale calving grounds and, in some cases, directly into right whales themselves.

In 2006, five whales were killed by ship strikes or entanglements. Orcas are their biggest predators but ship strikes may be their biggest threat. The Navy plans to conduct at least 470 training exercises annually with three vessels and two planes engaged in war games, dropping thousands of sonobuoys, target submarine simulators and non-explosive torpedoes directly onto right whale habitat.

The National Marine Fisheries Service still has to authorize the Navy construction plans before the full project can proceed, so stay tuned.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.