Navy policy is to operate in full compliance with environmental laws. Environmental protection efforts have been a standard component of Navy operations for decades, enabling vital Navy training while protecting the natural environment. Working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Navy has developed a set of procedures and tools based on the best available science to minimize effects of training and testing activities on the ocean environment. To protect and safeguard the marine environment, every Navy ship and its crew are thoroughly trained in and follow specific standard operating procedures.
Many marine mammals vocalize underwater and are visible when on the ocean surface. Prior to using active sonar, Navy personnel scan the area visually and with passive sonar to detect the presence of marine mammal and sea turtles.
Posting Highly Trained Lookouts
Qualification as a Navy shipboard Lookout includes the completion of a Marine Species Awareness Training program, which was developed with NMFS. This extensive training gives Lookouts the skills to detect objects or activity in the water that could potentially be a marine mammal. With the exception of vessels less than 65 ft. (20 m) in length and the Littoral Combat Ship (and similar vessels which are minimally manned), ships using low-frequency or hull mounted mid-frequency active sonar sources associated with anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare activities at sea will have two lookouts at the forward position of the vessel.
Mitigation Zones for Marine Species
During active sonar training, if a marine mammal is detected within 1,000 yards, the vessel will reduce sonar transmission power. The vessel's sonar power will be further reduced if a marine mammal is detected within 500 yards. If a marine mammal is detected within 200 yards of the sonar dome, all active sonar transmissions will cease.
Conducting Safe Navigation
While in transit, Navy vessel operators are alert at all times for objects in their path; use extreme caution; operate at a slow, safe speed consistent with mission and safety; and take proper and effective action if there is a risk of collision with a marine animal.
The Navy works closely with the NMFS in a number of ways, including reporting marine mammal sightings during major training and testing exercises and coordinating with NMFS in the event of a stranding.