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News | April 30, 2009

Lookouts On Board Key to Protecting Marine Life

By U.S. Fleet Forces Command Public Affairs and Outreach U.S. Fleet Forces Command

When it comes to protecting marine mammals and other marine life, Navy lookouts play a crucial role. The eyes and ears of Sailors are the first line of defense protecting ships from striking or being struck by anything in the water. 

The first time Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Waters spotted whales, he was standing one of his earliest lookout watches aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), based in Norfolk. Then a seaman recruit, he was on the fantail when he and a fellow boatswain's mate heard splashing in the water off the Virginia Capes. They saw whales surfacing. Though the animals were near the stern of the ship, they immediately reported their presence to the bridge.

"It's always been stressed since I first started going out to sea," he said. "Report anything you see."

That level of awareness is vital for any lookout, especially during anti-submarine warfare training that uses active sonar. Active sonar introduces sound into the water, and the Navy takes care to make sure those operations do not occur where marine mammals are sighted in close proximity.

The Navy takes a total of 29 steps to protect marine life, including using well-trained, eagle-eyed lookouts. Lookouts use visual aids such as high-powered binoculars, night vision equipment, and sound-powered phones. 

Other proactive measures include marine mammal awareness training for lookouts and other key personnel, special operating procedures, including safety zones for reducing power or shutting off sonar at specified distances from marine mammals; and reporting requirements for marine mammal strandings, beachings, mortalities or unusual behavior.

These measures are designed to meet two commitments simultaneously - serving as a steward of the ocean environment and training Sailors realistically.