New Navy study says use of sonar, explosives may hurt more marine mammals than once thought
May 10, 2012 (Washington Post)
The U.S. Navy may hurt more dolphins and whales by using sonar and explosives in Hawaii and California under a more thorough analysis that reflects new research and covers naval activities in a wider area than previous studies.
The Navy estimates its use of explosives and sonar may unintentionally cause more than 1,600 instances of hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals each year, according to a draft environmental impact statement that covers training and testing planned from 2014 to 2019. The Navy calculates the explosives could potentially kill more than 200 marine mammals a year.
The larger numbers are partially the result of the Navy’s use of new research on marine mammal behavior and updated computer models that predict how sonar affects animals.
The Navy also expanded the scope of its study to include things like in-port sonar testing — something sailors have long done but wasn’t analyzed in the Navy’s last environmental impact statement. The analysis covers training and testing in waters between Hawaii and California for the first time as well.
Gray whale during sonar test March 7, 2012 Saratoga Passage
March 7, 2012, Dick Snowberger, Sandra Pollard and Howard Garrett were about a mile southeast of Camano Head in flat calm water, about 8.5 miles from Naval Station Everett, at N48 03.127 W122 20.779 in their boat to record sonars and document gray whales. At 1430 we heard the first pings and began recording on video tape. At first they were at low volume, but they ramped up within a few minutes to very loud. At 1440 we saw a gray whale moving southeast about a mile northeast of us. We watched as the whale approached the Tulalip shoreline and continued south. At 1525 we moved about a mile east, toward the whale. At 1540 the whale began moving north at a rapid pace. We moved north too, and at 1607 we were at N48 04.260 W122 18.895, less than a half mile from shore. There may have been two gray whales within a mile of us at that point.
The sonars were repeated about every 13 seconds, with two bursts of pings for about 8 seconds, then about 5 seconds of silence before the next pings. With the hydrophone amplifier turned to the lowest possible volume the pings were extremely loud.
US Navy Sonar blasts Pacific Northwest killer whales
Including photos of porpoise and CT scans.
Photo © Center for Whale Research - May 5, 2003
Photo © Sandy Dubpernel - May 13, 2003
Navy tests off West Coast to endanger whales, environmentalists fear
December 27, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Environmentalists worry that plans to expand Navy testing off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts will pose a danger for whales.
A proposal for increased sailor training and weapons testing, as well as underwater minefield training for submarines in the Navy's Northwest Training Range, has been approved by the Obama administration.
"They're all very susceptible," said Howard Garrett, the president of Orca Network, a nonprofit group based in Washington state. "The Navy is single-minded and they're focused, and the whales are very much a secondary concern to them."
The group is among the many opponents in Washington and California lining up against the Navy's plan.
Navy officials have been assuring the public that the marine life will be safe.
"We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. ... What people don't seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody," said Sheila Murray, a Navy spokeswoman.
"It's our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment."
Of the Navy's expanded operations at the site, Murray said: "This training is important. It allows naval forces to be prepared."
Opponents fear that missile and sonar testing and the dumping of depleted uranium could hurt the whales.
The Natural Resources Defense Council worries the Navy will release hazardous materials into coastal waters, including "thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium" and more.
The council also believes the midfrequency sonar used to detect submarines and underwater objects interferes with whales' ability to navigate and communicate, and that the chronic noise can interfere with whales' brain development and depress reproductive rates.
"I'm not convinced by the assurances that the Navy gives that there will be no effect," Garrett said. "I can't imagine that there won't be mortalities."
"The Navy's been training on that range since before World War II: 70 years. Nobody was even aware that the Navy was there. And if what they were saying was true, they would see dead marine mammals floating up on shore. It's not true," Murray said.
HG Comment: The Navy is tasked with defending the homeland against enemies because of our country's failure to normalize relationships with foreign leaders. It's not the Navy's fault that our government has failed to honor past treaties, or to proactively arrange cultural exchanges or any real attempts to build trust. President Nixon made peace with China, but would President Obama have the support of the reactionary right-wing if he reached out to North Korea and Iran?
There is a very strong current among powerful political circles that global hostilities are normal, inevitable, and for some military contractors, desirable. The Navy must defend against the resulting hostile nations, and the whales and other marine life must be sacrificed to satisfy the need to train against potential incursions by their silent submarines. To save the whales we'll need to work for peace as a unified nation, but the right wing noise machines have made sure we're no longer united.
Expanded Navy tests off Washington coast will endanger orcas and fish, critics say
December 27, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Orca Network's comments on the Northwest Training Range Complex EIS/OEIS
Note - the comment period closed 10/25/2010. At this time the best course of action is to contact public and elected officials to ask them to contact the Navy with their concerns about the potential injuries to marine life resulting from the exercises, and to discuss ways to address international hostilities without sacrificing whales, dolphins, birds, turtles, and fish.
A. Orca Network has been involved in observing and researching several species of cetaceans since 1981. In our judgment the mitigation measures detailed in this EIS are not sufficient to reliably detect the presence of cetaceans in most instances.
Recognition of marine mammals at sea either by sight or by sound is highly problematic even for experienced personnel. Many species of whales often travel silently underwater over long distances and for long periods. Mammal-eating killer whales, for example, are notorious for evading detection by their prey, and likewise their prey species are well adapted to silent, stealthy travel to avoid detection by transient-type orcas. Currently proposed monitoring is not likely to be effective even in normal sea-state conditions due to the difficulty of recognizing brief or non-existent visual or acoustic cues. These exercises would take place in the midst of multiple ships and aircraft, sometimes operating at high speeds, deploying high-powered and explosive sonars and detonating munitions, often making detection or recognition impossible. Training monitors with visual and audio examples interpreted by experienced cetacean observers would improve reliability, though even that would fail to detect marine mammals in most cases. The Navy should improve the mitigation measures to include training of monitoring personnel by experienced whale biologists to improve recognition of marine mammals by visual and acoustic monitoring.
Even with the best monitoring by experienced observers however, the mitigation measures are inadequate.
B. Prior to any expansion of training activities the Navy should fund independent research on the seasonal presence of marine fish, birds and mammals found within their training ranges rather than rely on outdated surveys.
C. The Navy should provide the public access to non-classified ambient acoustic information in their training ranges to confirm compliance with their operations.
D. The Navy should demonstrate a means to respond to environmental consequences of a maritime incident such as a toxic spill in all their operating areas including interactions between their ships and commercial vessels.
E. The Navy should consider the cumulative impacts of repeated exercises over long periods, in multiple training ranges, on species of birds, fish and mammals that inhabit any or several of the proposed training ranges.
F. Due to the decline in numerous marine species and the lack of information available to assess the impacts of the Navy's proposed expansion on those species, especially with proposed testing of new systems and inadequate marine mammal monitoring, a "No Action Alternative" is the preferred option.
G. We understand the motivation to defend Naval assets and personnel against silent deisel/electric submarines. However, detecting marine mammals reliably enough to assure that no mortalities will take place, as claimed in the Navy's EIS, is essentially impossible. Thus, the long-term challenge is to dial down the need for these training exercises altogether, which is a problem of international relations and diplomacy. The responsibility lies with the office of the President of the United States, the State Department and Congress to prevent this immanent danger to marine life by fostering improved international relations and thereby reducing hostilities.
Fisheries Service Gives Navy Permission to Kill or Harm 27 Species in Pacific Training
August 11, 2010 (AllGov)
The U.S. Navy has gotten the okay from the National Marine Fisheries Service to harm up to 27 different Pacific Ocean species during its training exercises scheduled near the Mariana Islands. The authorization includes killing up to 10 beaked whales over the next five years.
The training exercises deal with anti-submarine warfare and include the use of mid- and high-frequency sonar and detonation of explosives.
"You're killing me": How whales and dolphins sacrifice for national security
August 11, 2010 (DC Bureau)
The largest international naval exercise in the world off the waters of Hawaii known as the 2010 Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC exercise involved 14 nations including South Korea, Thailand, Colombia, Peru and Malaysia with a total of 32 ships, five submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 20,000 personnel.
One of the primary threats the month-long series of exercises were designed to address comes from quiet diesel-engine submarines, which national security experts say North Korea, Iran and other potential adversarial nations possess. The best way to detect something as quiet as a submarine running nearly entirely on battery power – as opposed to a noisy nuclear sub – is with high-intensity active sonar, which sends out pulses of mid-frequency sound as loud as a rocket blast underwater.
The general consensus, with which courts over the past decade have largely agreed, says high-intensity mid-frequency sonar can kill whales and dolphins. The National Marine Fisheries Services – part of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration – explicitly allows Navy sonar tests and training exercises to result in the deaths of specific numbers of whales and dolphins as long as they have a negligible impact to the population.
Study supports theory whales get the bends
June 11, 2009 (Taiwan News)
A new study offers evidence to support the theory that beaked whales get the bends when they surface rapidly, possibly after being startled by naval sonar.
The report could help scientists understand why beaked whales appear to be more vulnerable to the potentially harmful effects of sonar than other marine mammals.
Together with other studies, the results may also help scientists and regulators think of how navies could adjust their sonar use during training to prevent beaked whale strandings and deaths.
"It provides more evidence that beaked whales that are being found dead in association with naval sonar activities are likely to be getting decompression sickness," said Robin Baird, a marine biologist at Cascadia Research Collective and one of the report's authors.
Smarten up naval sonar to save the whales
April 2, 2009 (Christian Science Monitor op-ed by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Joel Reynolds)
The Bush administration may be gone, but whales and other marine life along our coasts will be hearing from it for years to come – literally.
On its way out of town, Bush's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Navy released a series of regulations that, during the next five years, could cause environmental harm on a staggering scale. But by acting decisively, the Obama administration can prevent it.
The regulations allow approximately 11.7 million instances of harassment, injury, or even death (the legal term is "take") to marine mammals by exposing them to high-intensity military sonar training in coastal waters around the United States. These estimates – the Navy's own – include 9.7 million takes along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico; 630,000 off the coast of southern California; 650,000 along the coast of Washington and Oregon; 140,000 in Hawaii; and another 500,000 off the coast of Florida.
Sonar exposure is not, as the Navy suggests, a mere matter of annoyance to whales and dolphins. In fact, the harm ranges from significant disturbance to important behaviors – feeding, breeding, migrating, communicating, finding mates – to hearing damage and even mass stranding and death.
At risk are not only some of the most vulnerable whale populations on Earth – including the last remaining 300 North Atlantic right whales and the 83 critically endangered southern resident killer whales off the Washington coast – but the very fabric of life among species that, over eons in the dark ocean, have evolved to depend on sound as we depend on sight. According to government scientists, the "loss of even a single individual right whale may contribute to the extinction of the species."
Simple steps such as avoiding sensitive areas like marine sanctuaries, critical habitats, and feeding or breeding grounds; adopting adequate monitoring and safety zones around the sonar device; powering down in ocean conditions of particular acoustic risk; and implementing ship based, aerial, and underwater techniques to monitor when marine mammals are present enable a protective response.
But for all of the recent proposed sonar training, the Navy has refused to implement any of this mitigation, instead proposing half-measures dismissed by the federal courts as "woefully inadequate and ineffectual."
New leadership is already in place at NOAA. New leadership, we hope, will soon be coming to the US Navy. Instead of the Bush administration's last-minute attack on whales and other marine life, the new administration should require a uniform protocol of effective safeguards for all Navy sonar training that would prevent the needless infliction of harm.
February 22, 2009
Report discusses sonar effects and other ocean noises
Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute has once again packed a lot of interesting information about ocean noise — and particularly effects on marine mammals — into a special report released today.
October 8, 2008
Protecting Whales from Dangerous Sonar
NRDC's campaign to regulate harmful Navy sonar systems is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chris Dunagan writes in Another informed viewpoint on the sonar debate:
Jim Cummings, who founded the Acoustic Ecology Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., has stepped up to become an unofficial moderator in the sonar debate between the U.S. Navy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Cummings' report, called "AEI FactCheck: Navy/NRDC Sonar Debate" finds fault with both the Navy and the environmental group for over-stating or under-stating the actual impacts of sonar. I don't have the expertise to judge his judgment, but I am encouraged by his ability to weigh the two viewpoints. As I've said before, this whole issue has been a balancing act.
Read the report here:
Navy/NRDC Sonar Debate
by Jim Cummings
AEI Executive Director
Navy agrees to limit use of sonar in Pacific
August 13, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The Navy will restrict the use of low-frequency active sonar during training to prevent possible harm to whales and other creatures, under an agreement reached with environmental groups Tuesday.
The accord, approved by a federal court in San Francisco, would restrict the use of a type of sonar in areas in the Pacific Ocean that are known to be whale breeding grounds and key habitat, such as the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary off Hawaii.
The Navy and environmentalists have been jousting in court for several years over the risk to whales and other marine life posed by underwater noise from sonar exercises. A separate lawsuit, not involved in Tuesday's announcement, involves midfrequency sonar. That case is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Navy officials insist that the sonar exercises are essential for sailors to train to detect ultraquiet submarines being developed by nations such as Iran and North Korea. Environmentalists say the Navy is needlessly harming whales and other marine mammals and training can be conducted where whales are not common.
"Limiting sonar use in breeding grounds and other key habitat areas is essential for the conservation of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals," said Naomi Rose, marine-mammal scientist for the Humane Society of the United States. "This agreement protects both national security and our most treasured natural resources."
A Navy spokesman at the Pentagon said the agreement was reached Friday and signed by the judge Tuesday. "We get some areas to train, and they get some areas that are off-limits," the spokesman said.
Sonar triggers adverse behavioural changes in whales
August 4, 2008 (Times of India)
LONDON: A report has confirmed that sonar leads to behavioural changes in whales, with the animals subjected to sonar, neither diving nor feeding.
According to Nature News, this report was issued by the UK military, though it remained unpublished.
The impact of sonar on whales has become an increasingly fraught issue in recent years, with submarine exercises being linked to several high-profile mass strandings.
The US Navy has admitted concerns over sonar's effects on marine mammals, although actual evidence for harm has been in short supply.
But military-sponsored tests now suggest that low levels of sonar, which do not cause direct damage to whales, could still cause harm by triggering behavioural changes.
The UK military report details observations of whale activity during Operation Anglo-Saxon 06, a submarine war-games exercise in 2006. Produced for the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, it states the results are "potentially very significant".
The study used an array of hydrophones to listen for whale sounds during the war games. Across the course of the exercise, the number of whale recordings dropped from over 200 to less than 50.
"Beaked whale species appear to cease vocalizing and foraging for food in the area around active sonar transmissions," said the report.
The report also references a second military document from 2005, which explains that these second- and third-order effects could include starvation and then death, depending on the severity of the sonar's initial effect on the whales.
Cause of whale stranding under investigation
August 2, 2008 (Molokai Times)
Navy sonar transmissions responsible, says organization
The beaching of a whale off Molokai’s coast has some pointing fingers at the U.S. Navy and its use of mid-frequency sonar transmissions.
The 15-foot male — a Cuvier’s beaked whale — was found close to the Kawela shore early morning on July 28.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials flew to Molokai to assess the whale’s condition.
Although the animal attempted to return to the open water a couple of times, it kept swimming back to the shore, said Chris Yates, head of the Protected Resources Division for NOAA Fisheries.
Those present at the scene, including a veterinarian from Honolulu, decided euthanizing the whale would be the most humane thing to do, said Yates.
NOAA officials conducted a necropsy on the whale on July 29.
“It’s impossible to say conclusively at this point but all the indications are that it was connected,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Architoff.
“If there was ever a circumstance where it appeared that sonar was responsible, this is it.”
The effect of sonar transmissions on beaked whales has been the subject of much research, especially after 13 beached themselves during Navy exercises in the Bahamas in 2000, according to the Center for Whale Research.
Colin Crosby, a Maui-resident who came to Molokai with his son during the July 26 weekend, was at Papohaku Beach the day before the whale beached itself.
He said he and his fellow campers heard an electronic sounding screech when they dove into the water.
Crosby said the noise started off soft and kept getting louder until a very loud pitch could be heard both in and out of the water. It then died down a bit and echoed through the water before the sequence started up again.
Whale stranding provokes claims of a sonar injury
July 30, 2008 (Maui News)
A coalition of opponents of the Navy's use of sonar in training around Hawaii charged on Tuesday that a 15-foot whale stranded on Molokai was injured by sonar use during the Navy's RIMPAC exercises.
A necropsy and a magnetic resonance imaging examination were performed on the whale Tuesday after it was flown to Oahu and examined at a laboratory at Hawaii Pacific University, she said.
It quoted a whale researcher, Robin Baird of Cascadia Research, in charging that Cuvier's beaked whales "appear to be particularly susceptible to harm from midfrequency active sonar."
"The exact mechanism of harm is not known, but whales stranded in association with naval exercises have exhibited gas bubble lesions, somewhat similar to the bends that human divers experience when they rise too quickly from a long dive," Baird said.
Rare whale death raises questions on Navy
July 30, 2008 (Navy Times)
Federal authorities plan to conduct a necropsy of a rare species of whale that was found stranded in shallow waters off Molokai this week.
The Coast Guard flew the carcass of the 2,000-pound, 15-foot-long Cuvier’s beaked whale to Oahu where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will try to determine what caused the whale to beach itself.
Beaked whales have been at the center of a dispute over the Navy’s use of midfrequency sonar ever since several washed ashore with bleeding around their brains and ears during naval exercises in the Bahamas in 2000.
Marine mammal researchers say beaked whales appear to be most susceptible to the impact of sonar but haven’t pinpointed exactly why.
The Navy is holding a monthlong series of international naval drills, the Rim of the Pacific exercises, in Hawaii waters through Thursday. Sailors were scheduled to practice using sonar during the last stage of the exercises.
(June 9, 2008) Dozens of dolphins die, stranded on Madagascar beach
(June 10, 2008) Navy ships' sonar may have led to death of 26 dolphins as rescuers continue search
(June 10, 2008) Grim recovery of trapped dolphins
(June 10, 2008) Navy in area before dolphins died
(June 10, 2008) Navy claims court rulings hurt sonar proficiency, readiness
(June 10, 2008) Stranded dolphin mystery: they may have been fleeing killer whale
(June 10, 2008) Dolphin stranding: Royal Navy was carrying out live firing exercises
(June 10, 2008) Why do dolphins beach en masse?
(June 11, 2008) Dolphins found dead off Cornish coast 'committed suicide', wildlife expert claims
(June 11, 2008) Dolphin disaster: Why we must learn from this before it's too late
Navy, scientists search for common ground on sonar use
June 16, 2008 (The Virginian-Pilot)
After more than 70 years of depending on sonar to protect ships and hunt enemy submarines, the Navy is fighting to convince the public that sonar isn't a major threat to whales and dolphins.
Two West Coast lawsuits filed by environmentalists have interrupted training exercises, and forced the Navy to adopt stricter preventive measures and alter the way it readies Pacific-based ships for deployment. Closer to home, Navy plans for an East Coast sonar-training range are under scrutiny.
Already bruised after a four-year battle over the placement of a jet practice landing field, officials want to minimize controversy over sonar. In both cases, they're up against advocacy groups who accuse the service of flouting environmental laws.
One recent spring day, about three dozen scientists, journalists and researchers stood on the deck of the destroyer Mitscher as it headed to sea.
The outing featured a demonstration of Navy sonar use, as well as a chance for scientists and Navy officials to discuss, out of the glare of the spotlight, its potential effect on marine mammals.
Court upholds whale protection in Navy exercises
March 2, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
A federal appeals court has ruled that the Navy must protect endangered whales from the potentially lethal effects of underwater sonar during anti-submarine training off the Southern California coast, rejecting President Bush's attempt to exempt the exercises from environmental laws.
In a Friday night ruling rushed into print ahead of the next scheduled exercise on Monday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's decision that no emergency existed that would justify Bush's intervention.
The Navy is engaged in "long-planned, routine training exercises" and has had ample time to take the steps that the law requires - conduct a thorough review of the environmental consequences and propose effective measures to minimize the harm to whales and other marine mammals, the three-judge panel said.
Past rulings have established that "there is no 'national defense exception' " to the National Environmental Policy Act, the court said. That law requires government agencies to review projects that might harm the environment and propose reasonable protective measures.
Nonetheless, the panel allowed naval commanders to modify two of the restrictions if they arose during a "critical point in the exercise," when certain levels of sonar are needed for effective training. The modifications reduce the protective zones within which vessels must reduce or shut down sonar when whales are detected.
Those changes are to remain in effect for 30 days, and will be extended if the Navy appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court, the appellate panel said.
The ruling sets a precedent for federal courts in California and eight other Western states. One of those states is Hawaii, where a federal judge on Friday ordered similar restrictions on Navy sonar exercises off the Hawaiian islands. The ruling by U.S. District Judge David Ezra includes requirements to reduce sonar when whales are detected within certain distances or when conditions make monitoring difficult.
The Navy has completed six of the 14 large-scale training exercises scheduled off Southern California between February 2007 and January 2009. It decided not to conduct a full environmental review before the operations, saying it had already agreed to post lookouts for whales and taken other adequate protective measures.
The ruling in Natural Resources Defense Council vs. Winter is available at: www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf.
Court holds Navy to rules safeguarding marine mammals
March 1, 2008 (Los Angeles Times) A federal appeals court has rejected the Bush administration effort to exempt Navy sonar training from key environmental laws, backing up a lower court that imposed extensive safeguards to protect whales and dolphins from harmful sonic blasts.
Even so, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gave the Navy a 30-day reprieve from the most far-reaching protections -- such as shutting down sonar when whales are spotted within 2,200 yards -- so it could conduct a pair of training missions this month off Southern California and to give it time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Navy is carefully considering additional review, including possible review by the Supreme Court," Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said Saturday. Once the monthlong reprieve ends, the Navy spokeswoman said, the ruling "leaves in place significant restrictions on our ability to train realistically."
The decision, released late Friday night, is the latest in a string of legal defeats for the Navy in Los Angeles and Hawaii as it tries to avoid court-ordered restraints on how it trains sailors to hunt for submarines with a type of sonar that has been linked to the death of whales and dolphins.
After the last training in January, a northern right whale dolphin washed up on Navy-owned San Nicolas Island with blood in its ears -- a symptom seen in the fatalities of deep-diving whales that washed ashore in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas after military sonar exercises.
Sonar implicated in whale stranding
February 21, 2008 (Stuff.co.nz) New Zealand - Dolphin tour operator John Chisholm of Mangonui, who watched last week’s stranding of three Gray’s beaked whales at Taupo Bay, says he has noticed a change in the behaviour of dolphins this summer and he is concerned that use of low frequency sonor could be disorientating whales and dolphins in the South Pacific.
Samples of two adult females and a juvenile Gray’s beaked whale were taken by Ngatiwai and AUT research officer Emma Beatson, before the dead whales were buried at Taupo Bay.
Department of Conservation officer Mita Harris says this species does not strand often.
The Gray’s beaked whale – mesoplodon grayi – lives in the Southern Hemisphere. Strandings of more than one beaked whale at the same time are said to be uncommon.
According to the the International Whaling Commission, evidence linking sonar to a series of whale strandings in recent years is ‘very convincing and appears overwhelming’.
The Fellowship of the Ping
February 13, 2008 (Grist) Judge rules Navy must comply with sonar rules
A federal judge has ruled that the Navy must comply with earlier restrictions imposed on its use of sonar near the California coast despite a recent attempt by President Bush to exempt the agency from relevant environmental laws. The judge said that Bush's Navy exemption last month was "constitutionally suspect," but that she didn't need to rule on its constitutionality to reinstate the injunction. Bush and the Navy had argued that sonar training exercises were a matter of national security that also constituted an emergency, allowing the agency to ignore environmental laws.
Court hears sonar dispute
February 12, 2008 (Honolulu Advertiser) A federal court judge in Honolulu heard arguments yesterday in a lawsuit seeking to stop a series of Navy anti-submarine warfare sonar exercises off Hawai'i unless additional precautions are taken to protect whales and dolphins.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he had received "top secret" information from the Navy, as well as nonclassified materials, as he noted the complexity of the case.
Forty-five minutes were allotted for the hearing, but Ezra said the issues "couldn't be digested in 45 hours, quite frankly." Ezra and attorneys for both sides in the lawsuit will board the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS O'Kane this morning to observe midfrequency sonar operations.
The court case follows two recent rulings on the West Coast that dealt the Navy setbacks in its use of active sonar, which sends sound waves into the water. Its effect on marine mammals is hotly debated by the Navy and environmental groups.
The Navy said it already takes measures to keep a lookout for whales and dolphins off Hawai'i, while environmentalists say more needs to be done, including not training within about 15 miles of the coastline where humpback whales congregate.
Yesterday's hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed in May 2007. The Ocean Mammal Institute, Animal Welfare Institute, KAHEA, Center for Biological Diversity and Surfrider Foundation filed a legal challenge to the Navy's plan to use high-intensity sonar in a series of undersea warfare exercises in Hawai'i's waters.
Ezra asked for additional information from the Navy by Friday, and asked the plaintiffs to provide comments on it by Feb. 20. The plaintiffs want a preliminary injunction to prevent the training.
Navy loses round in sonar dispute
February 5, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Navy must follow environmental laws placing strict limits on sonar training that opponents argue harms whales, despite President Bush's decision to exempt it, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Navy is not "exempted from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act" and a court injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote in a 36-page decision.
"We disagree with the judge's decision," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "We believe the orders are legal and appropriate."
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said the military was studying the decision.
The president signed a waiver Jan. 15 exempting the Navy and its anti-submarine warfare exercises from a preliminary injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California. The Navy's attorneys argued in court last week that he was within his legal rights.
Environmentalists have fought the use of sonar in court, saying it harms whales and other marine mammals.
Whales in the Navy’s Way
Janaury 22, 2008 (New York Times editorial) According to a federal district judge in California, the Navy’s own research predicted that its sonar training exercises off the California coast will cause widespread harm — and possibly permanent injury or death — to nearly 30 species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales. That still didn’t stop the Bush administration from rejecting the judge’s carefully crafted plan to protect these animals from avoidable harm.
Early this month, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued a tough set of mitigation measures — such as shutting off the sonar when mammals are too close — that the Navy must take to avoid a ban on its training activities. That seemed reasonable, especially given the Navy’s own analysis of the potential harm. Last Wednesday, however, President Bush attempted to override the court order by granting the Navy waivers, on national security grounds, from two environmental laws on which the decision was based. That led the judge to stay some restrictions while leaving others in place.
Now the fight will resume in court over whether the White House overstepped its authority in granting the waivers. From our perspective this looks less like a matter of national security than of convenience for the Navy, which resists efforts to constrain its activities no matter the harm to marine life.
Navy exercises threaten Southern California coast
Janaury 7, 2007 (North Country Times op-ed by Michael Stocker) In October, for the first time ever, the U.S. Navy filed a Consistency Determination with the California Coastal Commission regarding its biannual "U.S. Pacific Fleet military training exercises." Designed to train Navy and Marine forces in "coordinated deployment and preparedness exercises," similar exercises have been taking place on the coast and in the waters of Southern California since the 1920s. Under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, all federal agencies are required to file a Consistency Determination to certify that their activities affecting the coastal zone are consistent with state policies.
This is the first time that the Navy has submitted a Consistency Determination for an exercise that it has conducted for the last 80 years ---- an indication that Navy policies are beginning to take environmental stewardship into consideration. Because these exercises have such a long history, we would expect that the Navy's assessment of environmental risk would be informed and accurate ---- except for one other "first" in this Determination: This is the first time that the Navy has proposed using mid-frequency active sonar off the coast of California.
The mid-frequency active sonar increasingly deployed by the Navy comprises a new set of technologies. These technologies have been deployed only in the past few years, which have seen a dramatic rise in marine mammal strandings coincident with naval exercises. The beaked whale strandings in the Bahamas and the Canary Islands, the Orcas incident in the Haro Strait and the Hanalei Bay melon-headed whale incident ---- just to name a few ---- have been associated with or directly tied to the use of mid-frequency active sonar.
Mid-frequency sonar may represent the "best available technology" for its task, but given its deathly impact on marine animals, alternative technologies must be developed. We encourage calmer minds to step forward and halt the use of this sinister technology.
The next and final Coastal Commission hearing on this issue will take place Jan. 11-13 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, 200 S. Pine Ave., Long Beach, CA 90802.
Michael Stocker is science advisor to Seaflow (www.seaflow.org), a San Francisco-based nonprofit group dedicated to protecting whales, dolphins and all marine life from active sonars and other lethal ocean noise pollution.
NAVY SUED OVER HARM TO WHALES FROM MID-FREQUENCY SONAR
October 19, 2005 (National Resources Defense Council press release) Simple precautions could protect majestic creatures
Ear-splitting sonar used throughout the world's oceans during routine testing and training by the United States Navy harms marine mammals in violation of bedrock environmental laws, according to a lawsuit filed here today in federal court. Whales, dolphins and other marine animals could be spared excruciating injury and death with common sense precautions, but the Navy refuses to implement them, according to the lawsuit, brought by a coalition of conservation and animal welfare organizations led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The case follows a successful lawsuit by NRDC and other groups, settled two years ago, that blocked the global deployment of the Navy's new low-frequency active sonar system (LFA), and restricted its use for testing and training to a limited area of the north-western Pacific Ocean. Today's lawsuit, however, targets training with mid-frequency sonar, the principal system used aboard U.S. naval vessels to locate submarines and underwater objects.
Mid-frequency sonar can emit continuous sound well above 235 decibels, an intensity roughly comparable to a Saturn V rocket at blastoff. Marine mammals have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, and there is no scientific dispute that intense sonar blasts can disturb, injure, and even kill them. Whales exposed to high-intensity mid-frequency sonar have repeatedly stranded and died on beaches around the world; some bleeding from the eyes and ears, with severe lesions in their organ tissue. At lower intensities, sonar can interfere with the ability of marine mammals to navigate, avoid predators, find food, care for their young, and, ultimately, to survive.
"Military sonar needlessly threatens whole populations of whales and other marine animals," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at NRDC. "In violation of our environmental laws, the Navy refuses to take basic precautions that could spare these majestic creatures. Now we're asking the courts to enforce those laws."
Evidence of sonar harm to whales 'overwhelming'
Mass stranding and mortality events associated with mid-frequency sonar exercises have occurred, among other places, in North Carolina (2005); Haro Strait off the coast of Washington State (2003); the Canary Islands (2004, 2002, 1989, 1986, 1985); Madeira (2000); the U.S. Virgin Islands (1999, 1998); and in Greece (1996). One of the best documented incidents occurred in the Bahamas in 2000 when 16 whales of three species stranded along 150 miles of shoreline as ships blasted the area with sonar. The U.S. Navy later acknowledged in an official report that its use of sonar was the likely cause of the stranding.
The association between sonar and whale mortalities is "very convincing and appears overwhelming," according to a report issued last year by the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission, one of the world's leading bodies of whale biologists. The committee also noted concerns that stranding reports may underestimate sonar harm because they do not account for whales that die at sea and are never found.
Government withholds results of investigation into acoustical trauma
Earlier this year, 37 whales of three species stranded along North Carolina's Outer Banks after U.S. Navy sonar exercises. Scientists at several major universities, working under federal contract, conducted necropsies and tissue analyses on the whales to determine why they died. The government, however, has refused to release the scientists' findings despite a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by NRDC in June. The Navy plans to use the area off the Outer Banks as a sonar training range.
Unmitigated sonar use violates U.S. environmental laws
The Navy's use of mid-frequency sonar violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit filed today. Those laws require the Navy to assess and mitigate the damage its activities cause; to obtain "take" permits for the animals its activities will necessarily harass, harm or kill; and to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential effects of mid-frequency sonar exercises on threatened or endangered species.
Simple precautions could spare whales
The lawsuit seeks to compel the Navy to prepare a mitigation plan to reduce its impact on whales and other marine mammals from mid-frequency sonar. The plan could include common sense precautions during peacetime testing or training with mid-frequency sonar, such as putting rich marine mammal habitat off limits; avoiding migration routes and feeding or breeding areas when marine mammals are present; testing and training with sonar primarily in areas with few marine mammals; listening with passive sonar to ensure marine mammals are not in the testing area before switching on active sonar; increasing the volume of active sonar gradually to give nearby marine mammals a chance to flee; and curtailing active sonar drills when marine mammals are detected.
"The U.S. Navy could use a number of proven methods to avoid harming whales when testing mid-frequency sonar," said Fred O'Regan, President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a co-plaintiff in today's lawsuit. "Protecting whales and preserving national security are not mutually exclusive. The American people deserve more of a 'can-do' approach from the U.S. Navy."
NRDC submitted a formal letter to the Secretary of the Navy in July 2004 (read the press release) requesting a constructive dialogue about mitigating sonar harm to marine life. The Navy has failed to respond meaningfully to the letter or to alter its practices. The Navy has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit filed today. Besides NRDC, the plaintiffs are the Cetacean Society International, IFAW, the League for Coastal Protection, and Ocean Futures Society and its founder and president Jean Michel-Cousteau.
New movie on sonar harm narrated by Pierce Brosnan
NRDC and IFAW today released a short movie about harm suffered by marine mammals from high-intensity military sonar and seismic air guns used to find oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor. The movie is narrated by actor and environmentalist Pierce Brosnan and produced by Imaginary Forces. The video will be available on NRDC's website soon.
August 26, 2003: Federal Court Restricts Global Deployment of Navy Sonar
June 11, 2003
Orca Network letter to US Navy
June 6, 2003
Letter from Gov. Gary Locke to Secretary of the Navy Hansford Johnson (.pdf file)
Suit Seeks Documents on Sonar Threat to Marine Mammals, Alleges Freedom of Information Act Violations
June 1, 2005 (National Resources Defense Council press release) The Bush administration is withholding a large quantity of evidence about severe harm caused to whales, dolphins and other marine life by high-intensity military sonar, according to a lawsuit filed today in New York federal court. Ocean mammals around the globe have been found dead or dying following the massive sonic blasts.
"The Bush administration is sitting on box-loads of data that show the devastating impact of military sonar on whales," said Michael Jasny, a senior policy consultant for NRDC. "The public has a right to know what is happening to these majestic creatures, and the Bush administration is breaking the law by stonewalling."
The Navy's mid-frequency, active sonar systems generate sound of extreme intensity to locate objects in the ocean. Marine mammals have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, and there is no scientific dispute that intense sonar blasts can disturb, injure, and even kill them, according to NRDC.
"Whales exposed to high-intensity sonar have been found bleeding from the eyes and ears, with lesions the size of golf balls in their organ tissue. Biologists are concerned that the whales we see dying on the beaches are only the tip of an iceberg and that many more are dying at sea," Jasny said.
In recent years, there have been numerous mass strandings and mortalities of whales and other marine mammals associated with sonar use, including in the Bahamas, Hawaii, Washington State, and North Carolina.
Degree of sonar harm to marine mammals debated
March 18, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists and whale-watchers in Haro Strait could hear the sonar long before they saw the USS Shoup.
As the pings grew louder above and beneath the waves, sounds ricocheting off submerged land forms, onlookers saw a minke whale, Dall's porpoises and killer whales behaving strangely.
Whale expert David Bain said a minke, usually wary of research boats, was nearly run over by one. The porpoises panicked, bolting from the unnatural sounds. A pod of orcas swam into an unusual area, hid for a while, then split up, reuniting a day later.
But to the chagrin of those hoping for stronger marine mammal protections, a report by the National Marine Fisheries Service shows the difficulties in scientifically proving sonar's impact on denizens of the deep.
At a time when scientists and environmentalists increasingly view sonar as a culprit in marine mammal deaths, such as the recent dolphin beachings at Florida's Key West, the federal report effectively concludes that the high-powered sonar used by the Navy in 2003 did not actually harm Puget Sound orcas' hearing.
Michael Jasny, senior policy consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the report shows that the Shoup "transformed the acoustical landscape of a large area of Puget Sound."
The "panic behavior" by marine mammals that day should lead to a common-sense "connecting of the dots," he said.
Whale Stranding in N.C. Followed Navy Sonar Use
January 28, 2005 (Washington Post) Military Says Connection to Death of 37 Animals Is 'Unlikely'
At least 37 whales beached themselves and died along the North Carolina shore earlier this month soon after Navy vessels on a deep-water training mission off the coast used powerful sonar as part of the exercise.
Although the Navy says any connection between the strandings and its active sonar is "unlikely" -- because the underwater detection system was used more than 200 miles from where the whales beached themselves -- it is cooperating with other federal agencies probing a possible link. Government fisheries officials, as well as activists for whales, say the fact that three species of whales died in the incident suggests that sonar may have been the cause.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists "are looking at all the possible causes of this stranding, which was a significant one," spokeswoman Connie Barclay said. Although the number of whales that came ashore is far from a record for mass strandings, Barclay said that "it's very curious to have three different kinds of whales strand, and a number of possible causes are being examined. Sonar is certainly one of them."
The possible connection between naval sonar and the deaths of whales and other marine mammals has become an increasingly controversial issue since the Navy acknowledged that the loud blasts of its sonar helped cause a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas in 2000. Since then, critics have accused the Navy of involvement in numerous mass strandings in U.S. and international waters, and federal environmental officials have concluded in some instances that the loud pulses from active sonar cannot be ruled out as a cause.
The North Carolina strandings could be especially problematic for the Navy because it hopes to establish a 500-square-nautical-mile underwater sonar testing range off that coast. The Navy says a draft environmental impact statement is near completion, and officials have said the range is a high priority.
Most of the animals that died in the latest incident were pilot whales, which stranded around the Oregon Inlet of the Outer Banks on Jan. 15. One newborn minke whale also beached at Corolla that day, and two dwarf sperm whales came ashore at Buxton on Jan. 16, locations about 60 miles north and south of the inlet. Six of the pilot whales were pregnant when they died, Barclay said.
Sonar acts as the underwater eyes and ears of the Navy, and intermittent bursts are often used in transit to detect potential enemies and other dangers. In addition, Navy officials increasingly believe that inexpensive quiet submarines from hostile nations pose a potential threat and want to upgrade sonar tracking systems to protect against intrusions into U.S. coastal waters. The Navy now uses mid-frequency sonar for its tracking but wants to deploy a new generation of low-frequency sonar that travels much farther underwater and is more powerful.
The Navy has sometimes been slow to acknowledge that its ships were in an area where strandings occurred and has accepted responsibility only in the Bahamas event. Environmental activists said that track record makes them skeptical of the Navy's statements about the North Carolina strandings.
"The circumstances are troubling," said Michael Jasny, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Navy on other sonar-related issues. "After so many whale deaths caused by sonar, these latest strandings are a red flag. . . . Unfortunately, the Navy has a long history of denial."
Most of the stranded whales were dead when they were found, and NOAA scientists are conducting necropsies of many of the animals to try to determine a cause of death. Although pilot whales travel in herds and are prone to strandings, the other two whale species are not, officials said.
Pilot and dwarf sperm whales are both deep-diving animals that feed off the ocean floor and slopes of the continental shelf. The other whale strandings linked to sonar use have also involved deep-diving species, such as the beaked whale. Researchers have theorized that the loud sounds of sonar can damage the whales' sensitive hearing system and cause them to surface too quickly from fright. After another stranding off the Canary Islands in 2002, researchers found unusual gas bubbles in some whale organs -- leading them to conclude that the animals suffered from a form of decompression sickness similar to the bends.
Blasts might harm whales, studies say
November 22, 2004 (San Diego Union Tribune) New insights into marine mammals are shedding light on why man-made blasts of sonar may be tied to whale strandings, scientists gathered last week in San Diego said.
The latest studies seem to support the idea that sonar is harmful to at least some marine mammals, said researchers attending the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
The scientists emphasize that much remains unknown about the natural physiology of whales and the threshold of sound that might harm them. While all kinds of natural sounds pervade the oceans, marine mammal scientists are most concerned with sonar and sounds from ships and boats, offshore oil drilling and other industrial activity. Sonar used by the military, for oil exploration and for marine research propagates sound over long distances in the ocean.
The newest studies on sonar associated with marine mammal strandings follow a paper published in October 2003 in the journal Nature. In that report, researchers identified nitrogen gas bubbles in the tissue of beaked whales that had stranded themselves in 2002 in the Canary Islands. The animals began stranding themselves about four hours after an international Navy sonar exercise.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR HALT TO HIGH INTENSITY NAVAL SONAR USE
October 28, 2003 (Natural Resources Defense Council) Conservation groups praised a resolution approved today by the European Parliament, which calls on its twenty-five member states to stop deploying high-intensity active naval sonar until more is known about the harm it inflicts on whales and other marine life. The European Parliament is the directly elected body of the European Union, representing over 400 million citizens in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and other nations.
The resolution cites increasing scientific and public concern over a series of documented mass strandings and mortalities of whales following military sonar exercises. Noting a growing body of scientific research that confirms such sonar poses "a significant threat to marine mammals, fish and other ocean wildlife," the resolution calls on member states to establish a Multinational Task Force for developing international agreements on sonar and other sources of intense ocean noise; to exclude and seek alternatives to the harmful sonars used today; and to "immediately restrict the use of high-intensity active naval sonars in waters falling under their jurisdiction."
"This is a landmark in the international battle to protect marine life from needless harm and death caused by high intensity military sonar," said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Protect at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "It is an unequivocal expression of the democratic will of the people of Europe, recognizing that nations can protect their own security and simultaneously safeguard the health of our oceans simply by using common sense steps to prevent injury from high intensity sonar during training and testing. We have a duty to protect marine mammals and other species, not only for their sake but for our own."
To address the proliferation of high-intensity sonar as a global environmental problem, NRDC last year joined with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International, and Ocean Futures Society and its president Jean-Michel Cousteau, to press for international solutions.
"The increasing use of active sonar by militaries around the world threatens the survival of numerous marine species, including entire populations of whales and porpoises," said Frederick O'Regan, President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "This is a global problem that must be solved through international cooperation, and the resolution adopted today by the European Parliament is a significant step toward that goal."
The European Parliament's resolution addresses both new, low-frequency systems, which are capable of spreading intense noise over vast distances of ocean, and the more commonly used mid-frequency active sonar systems, which are used by nearly 60 percent of the U.S. Navy's nearly 300 ships and submarines.
Mass stranding and mortality events associated with mid-frequency sonar exercises have occurred, among other places, off the coast of Washington State (2003), the Canary Islands (1985, 1986, 1989, 2002, 2004), the Bahamas (2000), Madeira (2000), the U.S. Virgin Islands (1998, 1999), and Greece (1996). According to an article in the scientific journal "Nature," mid-frequency sonar has been linked to injuries in whales suggestive of severe decompression sickness or "the bends," the illness that can kill scuba divers who surface too quickly from deep water. Many scientists are concerned that stranded whales represent only a fraction of those that are injured.
In July, the report of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) found "compelling evidence" that entire populations of whales and other marine mammals are potentially threatened by increasingly intense man-made underwater noise both regionally and ocean-wide. The IWC is the leading international body concerned with the conservation and management of global whale stocks. The report expressed particular concern about the effects of high-intensity sonar, noting that the association with certain mass strandings "is very convincing and appears overwhelming."
"Whales are majestic creatures and an integral part of the web of life," said Jean-Michel Cousteau, founder and president of Ocean Futures Society. "We have a duty to protect and preserve them for future generations."
NRDC won a groundbreaking legal settlement last year in which the U.S. Navy agreed to drastically scale back deployment of a low-frequency active sonar system capable of generating sounds up to 140 decibels more than 300 miles away from the sonar source.
Navy to curb use of sonar system
October 14, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Environmental groups and the U.S. Navy have struck a deal to dramatically limit the peacetime use of a new kind of sonar in the world's oceans after scientists found the technology can harm marine life, including whales and dolphins.
Navy sonar is being investigated as a possible cause of the deaths of 13 harbor porpoises that washed ashore in the San Juan Islands in May. And researchers last week reported that the bends -- a condition suffered when human divers surface too quickly -- might be triggered in whales after sonar exposure.
Although the restrictions wouldn't apply to the type of sonar suspected in the deaths of San Juan Islands porpoises, the move is "a major step forward" in preventing expansion of sonar's use, said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Under the deal, low-frequency sonar will resonate through a slice of ocean that includes waters off Japan, China and the Philippines. At the center of this is Okinawa, home to a U.S. military installation and endangered dugong, a relative of the manatee.
"The waters off of Okinawa are described as the Galapagos of the East," said Peter Galvin, Pacific director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz. "It's a very important area."
And the military has continued to fight for exemptions from environmental regulations, arguing that they impede training and preparation. Federal lawmakers are still considering their request.
Euro MPs fight for whales
October 13, 2003 (BBC) Members of the European Parliament have demanded an end to the use of sonar devices believed to cause the strandings and deaths of dolphins and whales.
A 100,000-signature petition was delivered to Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday calling for a ban on the devices, which are used to detect submarines.
Their move comes amid growing concern about the effects of soundwaves from underwater military sonar equipment.
Nato officials have agreed to meet the delegation to accept the petition signed by nearly 100,000 EU citizens.
Nato officials have agreed to meet the delegation to accept the petition signed by nearly 100,000 EU citizens.
MEPs argue the use of low frequency active sonar by Nato without proper studies into its environmental impact is in breach of the UN convention on the law of the sea.
"The latest research removes any doubt that military use of Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) is responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine mammals, some of them endangered and protected species,"UK Green MEP Caroline Lucas, among the campaigners handing in the petition.
"Nato must immediately cease using the devices, in line with the clearly stated wishes of thousands of European citizens who have signed this petition."
The action comes days after British and Spanish scientists argued the sonar signals may cause marine mammals internal injuries at close range.
They carried out post mortem examinations on beached whales that became stranded along the Canary Islands last year.
Writing in the journal Nature, scientists described how 14 whales died during a naval exercise in the Canary Islands.
Their report suggested the sonar waves confuse the animals' sense of depth, causing them to surface quickly and suffer blood clots and fatal decompression sickness.
Environment groups have argued for years that sonar is a threat to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
But the scientists discovered damage to the livers and kidneys of animals they examined, including gas-filled cavities.
They said the bubbles they found in the animals' tissues resemble those found in divers affected by decompression sickness (DCS).
Environmentalists, Navy strike deal on controversial sonar system
October 13, 2003 (Seattle Times) The Navy has agreed to limit peacetime use of a new sonar system that was designed to detect enemy submarines but may also harm marine mammals and fish, environmentalists say.
In a settlement last week of a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Navy agreed to use the new sonar only in specified areas along the eastern seaboard of Asia, according to documents provided by the environmental group.
The Navy also agreed to seasonal restrictions designed to protect whale migrations and to avoid using the new sonar near the coast.
None of the restrictions applies during time of war.
The agreement, which is subject to approval by a federal magistrate, would greatly restrict the Navy's original plan to test the sonar system in most of the world's oceans.
Whale Killer - Scientists have new evidence that sonar damages ocean wildlife
October 12, 2003 (Newsweek) Here’s what scientists think happens. When a navy vessel uses sonar, it sends out powerful sound waves through the water and waits for the echo to return. When a beaked whale is hit by the sound waves, it gets disoriented and flees to the surface, like a panicked diver, often from 1,000 meters deep. The effect: gas bubbles appear in the whale’s organs, damaging tissue.
Not everybody is buying this thesis. For one thing, little is known about beaked whales—they’ve never been kept captive. “In order to say a situation is pathological or abnormal, you have to have pretty good idea of what is normal,” says James Mead, a whale expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Other scientists think that the tissue damage may have occurred when the whales were knocked around in the shallows when they beached. “It would be premature to say that we have one cause that explains all the traumas that have been reported,” says biologist Darlene Ketten at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
'This Is Another Smoking Gun'
August 8, 2003 (KOMO-TV) "This is very severe hemorrhaging."
Ken Balcomb says new pictures of the brain of a harbor porpoise that died in Puget Sound last May are very telling.
The pictures show signs of severe trauma.
"This is another smoking gun for me that we've got a consistent trauma here," says whale researcher Balcomb.
Balcomb says the evidence convinces him that Navy sonar killed the porpoises.
Government scientists examined 11 porpoises that washed ashore. But they won't release any evidence until all the lab results are in. They tell KOMO 4 News that will take at least two more months.
But Congress plans to decide next month whether to exempt the Navy from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Balcomb says, "I'm concerned that the design of the whole investigation is intended to slow things down."
The investigation should tell us if Navy sonar killed the 11 porpoises. The USS Shoup used sonar on a training exercise off San Juan Island.
In a rare coincidence, whale researchers using underwater hydrophones, recorded the sound and its effect on killer whales.
Within days, dead porpoises started washing up.
Three months later, the National Marine Fisheries is still investigating.
Navy Lt. Bill Couch says, "The Navy is very interested in the results, we are sensitive to the plight of marine mammals in Puget Sound so it's important to wait for those final results."
National Marine Fisheries says its investigation into the porpoise deaths is completely separate from the congressional debate over marine mammal protection.
But Balcomb believes the government should know what killed the porpoises before it decides whether to allow the Navy to ignore rules protecting marine mammals.
Porpoise Sonar Mystery
July 21, 2003 (KOMO-TV) It's been about two months since the carcasses of dead harbor porpoises were placed in a deep freeze.
Sunday the six full bodies and three heads underwent CT scans at the Edmonds Center for Diagnostic Imaging.
Home video from May 5th reveals the sound of the sonar testing from the Navy destroyer USS Shoup near the San Juan Islands. Whale experts say the video shows the orcas are clearly distressed.
Experts are now conducting tests to see if the sonar fatally injured 13 harbor porpoises found dead over the next few weeks.
Joel Reynolds, the Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says "We know that this sort of sonar interferes with critical life functions. We know that it can injure them or even kill them. It's like dying from a very, very intense migraine headache."
Navy quiet over possible link to porpoise deaths
June 19, 2003 (Everett Herald) Did sonar exercises in May by a Navy destroyer, the USS Shoup, cause several porpoises to strand themselves and die on area beaches, including Whidbey Island?
For now, Navy officials are not saying much.
The Navy declined an invitation from the federally initiated Island County Marine Resources Committee on Wednesday to discuss alternatives to making the military exercises more compatible with marine mammals.
Rich Melaas, community planning liaison for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was sent to the meeting but was instructed to say only that the Navy is investigating the incident and the National Marine Fisheries Service is handling the post-mortem examinations of the porpoises.
Whale researcher Ken Balcomb told a group of about 25 people at the Marine Resources Committee's meeting on Wednesday that the necropsies are being delayed because CAT scan equipment in Seattle is booked indefinitely with human patients.
Despite the $250,000 price tag for a CAT scan machine, Balcomb said the federal government should invest in a separate machine to do marine research, because strandings occur often enough to justify it.
"There should be a West Coast-dedicated machine so you don't have to stand in line," Balcomb said.
Susan Berta of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network said she was worried to hear that federal officials were considering shipping the carcasses to facilities on the East Coast, away from the public scrutiny here.
"It would be nice if there was a neutral body doing these necropsies," Berta said.
Balcomb suggested changing the maneuvers to computer simulations for the bulk of the work. And when real-life exercises are required, he said the Navy should avoid corridors of high marine mammal use and find dead zones in the sea whenever possible.
Sonar puts whales at greater risk
June 18, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Kathy Fletcher) On May 5, the Navy vessel Shoup used its ear-splitting sonar in the waters of Haro Strait, the heart of our local orca whales' habitat. Scientists observed the entire J-pod of orcas reacting in distress and a minke whale desperately trying to flee. Similar sonar use in the Bahamas in March 2000 killed rare whales and dolphins.
The Navy should stop using sonar in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits. Southern resident orca whales, the most beloved creatures in our precious inland sea, are on the brink of extinction. At the top of Puget Sound's food web, the plight of these creatures also reflects the crisis of Puget Sound's ecosystem.
Concerned citizens should express their opinion to the Navy and other decision-makers, along with learning more about the plight of the Sound's whales and how we can protect their future.
Is sound of sonar deadly in San Juans?
June 17, 2003 (Seattle Times) Ken Balcomb keeps a harbor porpoise tucked in a basement freezer under lamb steaks and microwave lasagna. Wrapped in black plastic and duct tape, it sits untouched and frozen solid, like evidence in a coroner's morgue.
Balcomb found the blunt-nosed porpoise drifting dead off False Bay late last month, two weeks after a U.S. Navy destroyer motored through Haro Strait. Even people on shore said they could hear the high-pitched whine of the ship's powerful sonar emanating from the lapping waves.
For more than three decades, Balcomb has watched over the orca and other marine mammals off San Juan Island like they were his own kin. And for the past several years, he has tried to convince the government and even skeptical colleagues that Navy sonar can drive whales and other marine mammals crazy — even kill them.
May 12, 2003
CENTER FOR WHALE RESEARCH
On 5 May 2003, the US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer "Shoup" DDG 86 conducted sonar operations for five hours in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Haro Strait between Vancouver Island, creating one of the most obvious displays of marine mammal harassment that experienced observers have ever seen, anywhere. The terrorized whales and porpoises in the region could not escape the intense mid-frequency (3 kHz) long duration "pings" from the ship's SQS 53C sonar; and, several porpoises are reported to have "coincidentally" stranded and died following the sonar event. The carcasses of these mammals have been collected for forensic examination for acoustic pressure trauma (bleeding in ears and brain).
By chance, J pod of 22 killer whales was in Haro Strait at the time of the sonar operations. Observers noted that they abruptly stopped their feeding and gathered in a tight group to swim close to shore at the surface for the duration of the sonar exercise. The sonar "pings" were so powerful (>200 dB re 1 uPa) that they could be heard in air by visitors along the shoreline of San Juan Island.
The US Navy is seeking exemption from the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in Congress this week, in part because they know they are the most egregious of marine mammal harassers and killers worldwide. Since March 2000, when they chased 17 whales ashore in the Bahamas, the Navy has known that their sonar kills and injures whales at distances well beyond the visual horizon, yet they continue to "exercise" in inappropriate and confined waters killing these innocent animals.
In just this one day that we recently videotaped, the Navy's lethal sonar adversely impacted every marine mammal within twenty miles of the ship. No wonder marine mammals are stranding and their populations are declining. This is a literal "no-brainer" for the Navy and the whales.
Center for Whale Research
Eye-witness Report by David Bain:
The passage of naval vessel 86 was observed by me and students in the
marine mammal class at Friday Harbor Labs. Collectively, we observed
effects on three species.
Dall's porpoises were observed in a bay north of Lime Kiln Lighthouse as
the ship approached. After the ship passed, they were observed traveling
away from the ship at high speed. This is similar to the behavior of
Dall's porpoises in the presence of other loud sounds, such as air gun
A minke whale was observed porpoising as it passed Lime Kiln Lighthouse
going north ahead of the vessel. I heard a whale watch operator report a
porpoising minke whale north of Lime Kiln Lighthouse. I observed a
porpoising minke whale just south of the Center for Whale Research. I
heard another whale watch operator report a porpoising minke whale north
of the Center for Whale Research. It has been about 20 years since I've
seen a minke porpoising. A minke whale was observed fairly regularly in
the vicinity of False Bay, so I believe the reports of the porpoising
minke are probably of a single individual, that this individual initiated
its escape behavior in the vicinity of False Bay, and that it traveled
for 5-10 miles at a high rate of speed. Subsequent to the passage of the
naval vessel, we observed a minke whale in Boundary Pass, although we had
not seen one up there previously. If this is the same minke that was in
the False Bay area, it would represent a significant range shift.
Killer whales were observed behaving normally until the sonar became
audible in air. We could see the superstructure of a naval vessel over
the horizon in Juan de Fuca Strait, although we could not see the hull.
The J's moved inshore and grouped tightly. As we moved inshore with them,
the naval vessel disappeared over the horizon, although the sonar was
still audible. The J's then moved quietly northward. We did not see J39
being playful as usual, and overall the group behavior seemed
Once the J's rounded Edwards Point, they picked up speed and split up a
little bit, although they remained near shore. After they passed Lime
Kiln Lighthouse, they bunched up again, and remained tight until reaching
the Center for Whale Research, where they stopped. They then made a quick
move to the south as the vessel moved north past them. They stopped
before leaving Andrews Bay, and turned north toward the vessel, but didn't
move back toward it very far. They then turned south. Part of the pod
continued south, but the remainder stayed in Andrews Bay. After the sonar
was turned off, the northern portion of the pod continued north, and began
to move offshore. We did not see the southern portion of the pod rejoin
them, although I understand they were later seen traveling north at a
high rate of speed to catch up with the rest of the pod.
There have been a number of porpoise strandings recently. Some of these
pre-date the passage of vessel 86 through Haro Strait. Mid-frequency
sonars were heard in April as well, although these seemed to be coming
from Juan de Fuca Strait or points south. Thus these earlier strandings
were potentially related to other sonar activity. Necropsies may reveal
whether there was any involvement of sonar in their deaths.
As for what people can do, it seems the most important thing is to block
legislation designed to exempt the Navy from environmental laws. Many of
these laws were first passed during the Vietnam War, when preparedness for
attacks by the Soviet Union was high as well. We still have troops
deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting the war on terror, but the
recent successes of the US military have shown they are a formidable
force, even with environmental constraints. The threats arrayed against
the United States at this time are minor compared to what we faced when
the environmental laws proposed to be overturned were first passed. The
passage of vessel 86 through Haro Strait illustrates that the Navy is not
yet ready to make decisions reflecting the will of the people without
consultations with civilian agencies, and that it is important that
civilians retain the right to use the courts to seek enforcement of
environmental protection rules.
In addition, the Department of Defense is reviewing research proposals
designed to prevent incidents like last week's from happening. It is
important that as many of these proposals as possible are funded, and that
the Navy proceed with caution until such programs are completed and the
Navy can accurately predict where it can operate dangerous equipment
without causing undue environmental damage.
While the passage of vessel 86 in the presence of many commercial and
recreational whale watching vessels, scientists, and students provides a
well documented example, many naval operations take place out of sight.
It is important that the Navy review all operations that may be affecting
or may have affected Southern Residents, such as weapons testing in
British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California, in addition to sonar
practices. To date, recovery planning efforts for this population have
focused on prey availability, toxins, and whale watching in inshore
waters. However, it is the whales that spend the most time in offshore
waters that have suffered the greatest decline, and another factor such as
naval operations may need to be identified to account for this.
While local concern focuses on orcas, there is potential for activities to
affect other species, such as beaked and fin whales, in addition to
porpoises and minke whales, and these possibilities should be examined at
the same time. I'd suggest a thorough review of stranding records and
military operations on the west coast (and around the world for that
Finally, it is important that civilian concerns are relayed to decision
makers within the military. These might be most effectively channeled
through senators and congressmen. Successfully persuading Congressman
Norm Dicks, who is very influential in military matters in Washington
State and in whose district porpoise strandings have recently occurred, to
weigh in on the side of conservation, is probably the most important
channel for this. If the exemption from environmental laws goes through,
this will be the last hope for environmental protection. Senators
Cantwell and Murray may be in the best position to maintain legal
protection for the environment, and are likely to be sympathetic ears.
Other local congressmen, such as Rick Larsen, in whose district this
recent incident took place, and Jay Inslee, who has expressed concern
about this issue, would be good contact points.
I hope these thoughts are helpful.
Send comments about sonar and whales to the Acting Secretary of the Navy:
The Honorable Hansford T. Johnson
Acting Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20350-1000
Contact & website info for the USS Shoup:
COMMANDER EVON BERNARD CARTER
USS SHOUP DDG-86
FPO AP 96678-1300
Ph: (425) 304-5042
Write to your senators to stop legislation exempting the Defense Dept. from environmental and marine mammal protection laws:
For more information on sonar and marine mammals, go to:
Center for Whale Research website:
Bahama's Beaked whale stranding
LaPush Baird's Beaked whale stranding
Natural Resources Defense Council website:
NRDC: Navy Sonar System Threatens Whales
Reports, unpublished research, policy and technical analyses, Congressional testimony, and other materials by NRDC's lawyers, scientists and analysts
Humane Society's Sonar Page
Environmental Media Services Whales/Sonar page
Orca Network News page for news stories on recent sonar incident
Dr. Lee Tepley's Low Frequency Active Sonar
Below is a list of phone numbers, faxes & emails for those of you who wish to contact your Washington Senators & Reps in DC regarding the Sonar Incident and/or the proposed exemption of the Military from Environmental regulations, the MMPA, and the ESA:
WHO TO CALL, FAX or EMAIL:
Send a prewritten letter to the Navy from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Hon. Hansford T. Johnson
Acting Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-1000
Senator Patty Murray (D- WA)
DC Phone: 202-224-2621
Senator Maria Cantwell (D- WA)
DC Phone: 202-224-3441
Representative Norman D. Dicks (D - 06)
DC Phone: 202-225-5916
Representative Richard R. Larsen (D - 02)
DC Phone: 202-225-2605
Representative Jay Inslee (D - 01)
DC Phone: 202-225-6311
Representative Jim McDermott (D - 07)
DC Phone: 202-225-3106
Representative Brian Baird (D - 03)
DC Phone: 202-225-3536
Representative Richard (Doc) Hastings (R - 04)
DC Phone: 202-225-5816
Representative George R. Nethercutt, Jr. (R - 05)
DC Phone: 202-225-2006
Email: None Currently Available
Representative Jennifer Dunn (R - 08)
DC Phone: 202-225-7761
Representative Adam Smith (D - 09)
DC Phone: 202-225-8901