Earlier this month, The Seattle Times published a story that cited studies that have raised questions about whether Navy jet noise affects southern resident orcas and the soundscape of the Olympic Peninsula [“Navy Growler jet noise loud enough to reach orca pods even 100 feet underwater, new research shows“].
We disagree with some scientific methodologies and conclusions researchers made in these studies.
One study states noise from Growlers disturbs orcas and contributes to their harm from collective pressures. Researchers recorded the sound of takeoffs at the airfield in the water directly adjacent to the runway, with our collaboration.
We do not believe these studies demonstrate that very short durations of localized noise (takeoff from a runway) will have significant effects on the orcas where data shows they seldom visit. Likewise, we disagree with extrapolating this data across the Puget Sound, as our aircraft do not fly a takeoff profile in other areas where the orcas habitually live and feed.
Researchers also recorded aircraft noise from within the Olympic Peninsula Military Operations Area, which overlays the western 25 miles of the peninsula and which the FAA designated for military training flights in 1977. The data it presented did not substantiate claims that Navy-related aircraft noise is destroying the park’s soundscape or is harming its wildlife.
I have visited these areas from Hurricane Ridge to the Hoh Rain Forest with my family and have heard sounds from Growlers myself. The U.S. Navy has flown over the Olympic Peninsula and throughout the Pacific Northwest for decades since the 1920s and from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since the 1940s.
This is a critical training area for our military due to the unencumbered airspace, and we strive to keep this area as undisturbed as possible and make every effort to minimize effects in places we train, strictly adhering to environmental regulations.
Comparatively, our flights over the Olympic Peninsula are relatively low in number. During a normal day of air traffic departing or arriving from multiple airports on the Olympic Peninsula and surrounding Puget Sound, about 7% of that traffic involves military aircraft. We average 8.8 flights to the Olympic Military Operations Areas per day during the workweek and rarely fly on weekends. All our flights in that area operate above 6,000 feet, 95% are above 10,000 feet and 75% are above 20,000 feet.
What many people do not realize is that being good stewards of the environment is critically important to conducting our national security mission at sea, in the air and on land.
Your Navy continues to be a leading contributor to scientific research and projects to improve marine habitats and to further our collective understanding of marine species here in the region. For example, we recently funded almost $3 million in orca research and more than $1 million for studies of their prey fish.
We remain engaged in partnerships and conversation while defending our nation and protecting the beautiful environment that makes this region so special for all of us.