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NEWS | March 8, 2017

USS Mitscher Lookouts Spot Marine Mammals

By Lt. Cmdr. Brenda Way, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Public Affairs U.S. Fleet Forces Command

Sailors aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) completed a two-week underway period, March 5, after a stop at Navy Week Mobile.

Leaving Norfolk, trained underway lookouts were posted to watch for whales and other marine resources as the ship transited through Thimble Shoals Channel, a known concentration area for marine mammals. Lookouts spotted several whales, causing the ship to adjust course and leave a zigzag in its wake.

Early on, Seaman Drake Dierdorf saw a whale breach just 100 yards off the starboard side. He immediately reported the sighting to the officer of the deck who, in turn, maneuvered the ship to the required safe distance of 500 yards. These safe distances were developed during consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to afford protection for both the whales and the ships.

"Everyone said to look out for whales, but I didn't think I would see anything; and then there it was jumping right in front of me," Dierdorf said of his first whale sighting.

At-sea lookouts spotted dolphins on four different days. One example was during .50-caliber machine gun live-fire qualifications, where shooting was suspended until the dolphins departed the vicinity. The ship was operating in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) study area, which consists of approximately 2.6 million square nautical miles of open waters and designated airspace over the Atlantic Ocean where the U.S. Navy has previously completed multiple environmental analyses and obtained permits from NMFS to ensure all training is conducted in compliance with environmental regulations.

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, U.S. Fleet Forces Command is currently in the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to reassess the potential environmental impacts associated with conducting safe, yet realistic training for Sailors and testing systems within the AFTT study area.

Dolphins have long been considered a sign of good luck at sea, and their presence is said to indicate the viewers are under their protection. Fortunately, Mitscher Sailors were given the opportunity to protect them in return. 

"The U.S. Navy's Marine Species Awareness Training, endorsed by National Marine Fisheries Service, trains ships crews specifically how to look for whales and other marine resources while underway," explained Laura Busch, a natural resources program manager at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. "To go along with this training, the U.S. Navy implements mitigation measures -- in place for more than a decade -- that significantly reduces the possibility of striking a whale."

To ensure Navywide compliance in a global effort to keep the environment safe while conducting missions at sea, lookouts are trained to improve the effectiveness of visual observations for marine resources, including marine mammals and sea turtles. This training was certainly evident on Mitscher.

For more information on the efforts of the U.S. Navy to be good stewards of the environment, please visit http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/environmental/Pages/default.aspx.