New US Military Sonar Poses Threat to Cetaceans

In this video

Dr. Marsha Green talks about the sensitive subject of US Navy Sonar use in Hawaiian waters. The Navy has declared itself exempt from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

While existing US military sonar already is a deathly problem to whales and other marine life …

From Laura Klappenbach:

New Sonar Poses Threat to Cetaceans

The US Navy is hoping to widen its testing of SURTASS-LFS, a new generation of active sonar expected to out-stride any previous sonar technology. The new sonar operates at lower frequencies than older systems, producing sonar pings that travel further than ever before. SURTASS-LFS may be a technological leap, but it is also a grave threat to marine life.

The US Navy intends to equip four ships the new sonar system and then deploy those ships around the globe so they can test the sonar in many of the world’s oceans. Before this can happen, the US Navy must obtain a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, a step that resembles a simple formality, as the permit is being funnelled quickly down the path to approval. Conservationists argue that the public received insufficient time to comment on the impending permit approval and that little research has been conducted to evaluate (and limit) the effects the SURTASS-LFS sonar will have on cetaceans.

Bush Exempts Navy from Sonar Restriction Laws: here. See also here. And here.

Update February 2008: here.

Update March 2008: here.

Marine mammals in the Thames in England: here.

4 thoughts on “New US Military Sonar Poses Threat to Cetaceans

  1. Aug 6, 2007 9:01 pm US/Pacific
    Judge Bars Navy From Using Whale-Harming Sonar

    (CBS) LOS ANGELES Acting on a request by environmental groups, a federal judge Monday barred the Navy from using a type of sonar said to harm whales during war games scheduled for Southland waters.

    The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper is a win for the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups, which contend the Navy failed to do sufficient environmental analysis of the effects of the mid-frequency active sonar.

    The groups say the sonar, which uses high-intensity bursts of sound that span large distances underwater, can kill and injure whales, leaving them stranded on beaches, as well as causing marine mammals and fish to lose their hearing or abandon their habitat.

    The groups said that although similar litigation brought over war games off Hawaii resulted in a settlement last year in which the government agreed to mitigation measures to protect whales, the Navy was now refusing to take steps to mitigate the impact of the sonar during the tests in Southern California waters.

    The Navy, meanwhile, argues the tests of the sonar — three have already taken place, and 11 more were scheduled through 2009 — are necessary in order to properly train personnel on how to detect quiet submarines.

    “The U.S. Navy’s use of sonar, and the ability to test and train with it, is critical to the national security of the United States,” the government argued in court papers in advance of the hearing.

    “The proliferation of quiet diesel submarines during the last decade has created a serious threat to the United States and its allies. … The expertise required to operate these systems is a perishable skill that must be maintained by regular training, in real-world conditions.”

    The Navy was planning to complete its environmental analysis of the sonar by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, and in the meantime had “interim protective measures” in place for marine mammals, the papers state.

    The plaintiffs’ attorneys, meanwhile, argued that the Navy should not be allowed to continue with the tests.

    “The Navy’s had many chances to do the right thing, and it has not done so,” lawyer Gregory Fayer told the judge today.

    While noting that the issues on both sides are “tremendously important,” Cooper found there is a “near certainty” the sonar tests will cause irreparable harm to the environment without effective mitigation.

    The court order will remain in place while a lawsuit filed by the environmental groups is pending.

    Navy officials said they will appeal. In addition to appealing the order, the government can ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put it on hold until the appeal is resolved.

    Capt. Neil May, assistant chief of staff for training and readiness for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, said after the hearing that the effects of the injunction are akin to “defending against one of the most lethal predators partially blinded and deaf.”

    “Our ability to train to the readiness standards and strengths using a critical tool has been put on the shelf,” May said.

    NRDC lawyers said they were pleased with the order. “The court’s order confirms that, during sonar testing and training, the Navy can and must protect whales and other marine life in the extraordinarily rich waters off our Southern California coast,” NRDC attorney Joel Reynolds said.

    “The Navy’s rejection of common sense protective measures — even measures requested by the California Coastal Commission — is illegal, unacceptable and completely unnecessary.”

    (© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc.


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