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Air Force Looks to Start Testing Weapons in Kauai Waters

Aerial view of Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii (Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Polihale)
Aerial view of Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii (Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Polihale)

LIHUE, Hawaii — The Air Force wants to resume its weapons testing program at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, but some are concerned about the potential impacts on marine animals.

The Air Force in December filed a request seeking authorization for the testing from the National Marine Fisheries Service. A public comment period on the request ends Monday, The Garden Island reported.

The five-year testing of mainly bombers and fighter aircraft would start in September. It would involve the detonation of a variety of missiles and other weapons about 50 miles offshore of Kauai.

The testing could cause sound or pressure-related problems for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in the area.

Gordon LaBedz of Kauai's whale education group Kohola Leo said the fight to prevent the Air Force from getting a federal permit will likely end up in court.

"The only way to stop them from getting permits to kill whales and dolphins is to sue them," LaBedz said. "When we do, we usually win, but the conservation community only has so much money for attorneys."

Whitlow Au, who studies the behavior of marine life, said determining the effects of the sounds from weapons testing on marine animals is a complicated process.

"We don't even know the intensity of the sound that reaches an animal caused by a missile launch," said Au, chief scientist of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii.

If a whale in the area dives when a missile is being launched, that could be interpreted as a reaction to the launch, or it could just be natural behavior, he explained.

Au and his students have applied for their own five-year permit with the NMFS to study the effects of noise behavior on whales and dolphins.

While Au is not convinced weapons testing negatively impacts marine animals, he said it is important for the Air Force to conduct its training without harming sea life.

"These groups of people have to learn how to work together in a collaborative-type relationship," Au said.

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