Monitoring survey of UK’s largest military exercise
Exercise JOINT WARRIOR (JW) is a UK led exercise conducted in the Spring and the Autumn of each year. It is assessed that JW is the largest tactically focused exercise in Europe. At-sea operations are conducted for two weeks and up to 85 aircraft, 22 ships and 3 submarines can operate during this massive international exercise. Military sonar, used during the exercises, emits intense loud noise that can disturb and harm whales and dolphins, which rely on their sensitive hearing to navigate, find food and communicate. Naval sonar, more commonly linked to mass strandings events of deep diving whales, has also been associated with minke whale strandings in the Bahamas and in North Carolina. On the west coast of US, close to Seattle, similar rapid fleeing behaviour has been observed from killer whales and dolphins in response to sonar.
HWDT believe that it is incredibly important to monitor cetacean presence during these exercises. We are the only organisation collecting long term monitoring data in this area and are therefore best placed to monitor the potential effect of naval activities. It costs a lot of money to run these surveys and without the use of volunteers we would not be able to conduct the monitoring programme. It costs £800 per volunteer to run the 9 day survey that will coincide with the Autumn 2014 Joint Warrior exercise in October. HWDT are urging volunteers to sign up to partake in this incredibly important survey.
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) has been carrying out monitoring surveys for whales and dolphins on the west coast of Scotland using voluntary observers and specialised recording equipment such as hydrophones since 2003. In the Spring 2010 JW exercise, HWDT observed two minke whales within one hour displaying unusual behaviour. At the same time HWDT was recording constant military sonar on the hydrophone. The whales were both moving in the same direction at high speed, regularly leaping clear of the water. This behaviour, known as ‘porpoising’, is more typical of dolphins and rarely seen in undisturbed whales. The west coast of Scotland is well-known for its populations of minke whales which migrate to the area in the summer months to feed in the rich and productive waters. Decreases in sightings of minke whales have already been reported off the west coast of Scotland during naval activities. It is not known how any disruption in the whales’ feeding behaviours will affect populations in the long term.
After the behavioural responses observed in 2010, HWDT and WDC, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, called for an Environmental Impact Assessment to be conducted by the Ministry of Defence for the exercise. HWDT still have ongoing environmental concerns regarding these exercises and ask that the UK Ministry of Defence conduct a proper, and transparent, Environmental Impact Assessment like those undertaken by the US Navy. HWDT would also like to know what mitigation measures have been undertaken, when using intense underwater sound from sonar or explosions, to reduce the impacts on cetaceans and how much of a reduction in risk they can expect to achieve from employing these measures.
If you would like to participate in this incredibly important survey please sign up here or contact Mark Whitaker at email@example.com or 01688 302620 for more information.