Air Force wants to test more weapons in Kauai waters

Hawaii News Now file Image of a misisle launch on Kauai
Hawaii News Now file Image of a misisle launch on Kauai

The waters off Kauai's Pacific Missile Range Facility have been used for military weapons tests for more than fifty years, but some are troubled by one of the military's most recent requests.

In December, a Florida-based Air Force squadron asked for a permit that would allow continued testing of long-range missiles whose explosions are documented to have debilitating effects on dolphins and whales.

"These marine mammal populations off Kauai are already being barraged by military training activity," said David Henkin, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental activist group. "There are very specific populations of marine mammals that only live around Kauai, so if we harm those particular individuals, we run the risk of harming the population and losing that very important component of our environment."

Officials say this is the second permit request by the squadron, which completed a one-day training mission where nine weapons were released last October.

By phone, an Air Force spokesperson told Hawaii News Now the new request spans a much longer time frame: a total of five years, starting this September. Weapons testing would happen for five straight days every summer, in an area approxmately 50 miles north of the island.

The permit asks for permission to launch nearly 100 missiles each year.

Within the request, the military said it was possible that the following species of marine mammals could be effected by the explosions:

  1. Humpback whale
  2. Sei whale
  3. Minke whale
  4. Pygmy sperm whale
  5. Dwarf sperm whale
  6. Pygmy killer whale
  7. Short-finned pilot whale
  8. Melon headed whale
  9. Bottlenose dolphin
  10. Pantropical spotted dolphin
  11. Striped dolphin
  12. Spinner dolphin
  13. Rough-toothed dolphin
  14. Fraser's dolphin
  15. Risso's dolphin
  16. Longman's beaked whale

While the Air Force says no animals are expected to be killed, officials estimate that at least 219 animals were likely to experience a significant change in behavioral patterns, including those involving migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding and feeding.

Military estimates indicate that 382 animals could suffer temporary hearing loss, with roughly 36 permanently losing their hearing.

Humpback whales, Minke whales, Pygmy sperm whales and Dwarf sperm whales are at greatest risk of injury, the military says.

"They rely on their hearing to find food. They also rely on their hearing to avoid predators, said Henkin. "They rely on their hearing to find mates and rear their young. So any time a marine mammal permanently loses its hearing those individuals would be at greater risk of dying."

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