Despite lagging behind China in hypersonic missile technology and facing multiple other global military threats, the Biden administration apparently has decided the fate of a pod of 50 whales is more vital than preparing America’s national defense.
The Pensacola News-Journal reported this week that President Joe Biden’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would continue to restrict military training in the Gulf of Mexico, over the objections of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
As The Free Press reported last month, Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said the military had been stopped from conducting some training from Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola because the Biden administration wanted to figure out how that affected 51 Rice’s Whales who live in the Gulf.
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The Rice’s Whale was unknown until two years ago when genetic testing confirmed it was different from a species called Byrde’s Whale. Rice’s Whales are the only species of whale that naturally inhabit the waters of America, the News-Journal noted.
The 51 known mammals live in an area off the coast of Florida called the DeSoto Canyon, which is deep enough from them to hide from the noise of passing ships and oil rigs.
The News-Journal noted on Thursday that NOAA recently issued a letter that created “parameters for mission testing that are specifically designed to protect marine mammals, including the Rice’s Whale, from ‘incidental taking.’”
That NOAA letter extended Eglin’s ability to test its weapons inside an established Gulf Test Range through April 13, 2030, according to the News-Journal.
That range spans eastward from a line that cuts through Gulf from Fort Walton Beach. It covers about 120,000 square miles of sea. It also accommodates Air Force fighter wings at Eglin as well as the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field. The military also uses the site for air combat training, air-to-air missile testing, drone targeting, hypersonic weapons testing and space launches.
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The News-Journal noted that Gaetz’s office did not immediately respond for a comment.
But, as The Free Press reported in March, Gaetz questioned whether a “serious nation” would limit developing its self-defense capability for such a reason.
At a hearing he questioned Air Force General Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, who had not heard of the Rice’s Whales until Gaetz mentioned it.
“I’m hoping to bring a little sanity to this process,” Gaetz said at the time, “because a serious nation would not impair live-fire testing … because we found 51 whales we didn’t know existed before 2021.”
In reply, VanHerck acknowledged that “the stopping of … testing our weapons could have an impact on our readiness.”
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