Why You Didn't Hear About The Approved Airgun Activities In Hawaii And How It May Affect Marine Life

What does "incidental take" mean?

Incidental take is the unintentional "take" of a marine mammal.

What does "take" mean?

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the "take" of marine mammals. "Take" includes anything from harassing to feeding to killing. US Citizens wanting to partake in certain activities that may violate this, such as underwater explosives, seismic exploration, and naval exercises using SONAR, can apply for authorization of "incidental take" to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The approval will allow those conducting the activities to accidentally harass or even kill marine mammals without penalty.

Some of these approvals are done for legitimate purposes, research that may accidentally harass mammals in the process. Others like military exercises and the oil industries' seismic surveys, are more questionable and can cause much more damage. These anthropogenic activities can kill dolphins and whales (cetaceans) that use echolocation for communication and hunting. These animals' hearing is so specialized and fine tuned that a loud noise can deeply damage their ear, rendering them unable to hunt or communicate. Furthermore, some deep diving species will swim rapidly to the surface of the water and can suffer from decompression sickness. Others strand on the beach just to get away from the noise.

Recently, an incidental take authorization was approved by NMFS for a year-long geophysical survey in the North Pacific conducted by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. NMFS has approved the take of 39 species of marine mammals by both Level A Harassment (injure, kill) and Level B Harassment (disrupt behavioral patterns). That's a pretty serious authorization for such a long study, yet many Hawaiian Residents aren't aware of this survey's approval.

While these permits are technically publicly accessible on government websites and the federal register, they are not publicized or given much attention, nor is the time allotted for public comments to be submitted. Governing bodies don't want to deal with the potential backlash and protest from the public. So, unless members of the public are keeping tabs on these types of permits, most approvals slip right under their noses.

It’s immensely important to do your own research to help protect marine animals.

Here’s a few resources and ways you can use to keep an eye on these permits.

-Routinely check "Authorizations In Process" to submit public comment on practices that could harm marine mammals, particularly ones concerning:

-Oil And Gas

-Military Readiness Activities

-Know you'll forget to check those pages? You can also, make an account on the Federal Register and subscribe to Documents that contain phrases like "Take Of Marine Mammals" to get e-mail alerts.

-Checkout NMFS's interactive map to see information on active permits by location.

-Follow organizations monitoring and researching marine mammals in your area, particularly ones who have a focus on the impacts these activities have on marine life. We like Cascadia Research Collective!

Author: Carissa Cabrera

Photo: Dana Bjarner

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