WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — The captain of a whale-watching boat sounded an alarm with the U.S. Coast Guard Tuesday after he heard gunfire and learned that a military exercise was taking place in the vicinity of Puget Sound’s endangered killer whales.
Capt. Hobbes Buchanan had heard a Coast Guard alert on the marine radio warning people about an exercise taking place on the western shore of Whidbey Island.
Mike Welding, public affairs officer for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, said the exercise involved Navy personnel on shore practicing with hand-held weapons no larger than 9mm. The Coast Guard warning on the radio was to inform mariners of a safety zone, extending 2,000 feet offshore, to protect boaters in case of ricochets, he said. Live ammunition was used, but no firing was directed toward the water.
Unrelated flight training also was taking place Tuesday, as happens most days, Welding added.
Buchanan expressed outrage after he learned that federal officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were not aware of the exercise. Pacific Whale Watch Association issued a news release, quoting Buchanan and saying it appeared to be a joint exercise on the water between the Navy and Coast Guard.
“They are denying everything,” said Buchanan when informed of the Navy’s response. “I’m not concerned about their exercise, but I want them to be in touch with whale watchers and NOAA.” It is important that Navy and Coast Guard officials know where the whales are before beginning a military exercise, he added.
According to Welding, the land-based training created no risk for the whales.