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News | July 9, 2008

RIMPAC 2008 Hosts Scientists on Marine Mammal Research Projects

By Rim of the Pacific Public Affairs U.S. Pacific Fleet

In addition to providing invaluable military training, the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercise will provide unique new opportunities for some of the world's top scientists to gather information about marine mammals.

One project involves the Navy teaming up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on an unprecedented effort to survey, tag and track marine mammals in conjunction with RIMPAC 2008. Scientists from NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Duke University, Cascadia Research and other organizations will work aboard the NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and smaller vessels.

The researchers will record visual observations as well as collect data on the vertical and horizontal movements of beaked and other deep-diving whales during RIMPAC 2008. Researchers hope to learn more about how the animals move and the sounds they create and hear.

The Navy will adhere to NOAA-directed mitigation measures to minimize potential injury to marine mammals when it uses mid-frequency sonar during RIMPAC. Those measures include posting lookouts and reducing or halting sonar transmissions when marine mammals are nearby.

"This research provides an opportunity to explore the feasibility of using tags to investigate behavioral responses of marine mammals," said Julie Rivers, U.S. Pacific Fleet marine biologist.

This is the first time such a survey is being conducted with a naval exercise of RIMPAC's magnitude. The research will be conducted primarily off the Big Island's Kona Coast.

In addition, the Navy will conduct two marine mammal monitoring surveys off Kauai for one week during RIMPAC.

A small-vessel survey will involve gathering visual data on distribution, relative densities and behavior of marine mammals. This will be the first such survey during a RIMPAC. Similar surveys have been recently conducted with other, small exercises.

"We are excited that RIMPAC 2008 will help expand the science of marine mammals," said Vice Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet. "While RIMPAC's primary purpose is military training, we welcome opportunities to learn more about the environment in which we live and operate daily. We appreciate NOAA's partnership in furthering that understanding.

"This is the kind of activity that makes the Navy proud of its environmental stewardship," said Locklear.