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AEI Special Report

Active Sonar Systems
News Archive Supplement

Underwater LFAS speaker array
(Photo courtesy US Navy)

See also AEI's annual recaps of ocean noise research and policy developments:
[OCEAN NOISE 2006] [OCEAN NOISE 2007]

The main Active Sonar Special Report includes the following sections:
[GO THERE]

  • Sonar Training Range EIS Timelines
  • Recent news
  • Operational details: How LFAS and MFAS work
  • Effects of high-intensity sonars on ocean wildlife
  • Current US deployment of low and mid frequency active sonars
  • What sound level is safe?
  • Other Web Resources on Active Sonars
  • Key news items, 2003-8

A separate, detailed AEI Special Report digs into the scientific and policy disputes between the Navy and NRDC. It includes sections focusing on whale deaths, behavioral disruption, and the effects of additional safety measures imposed by the courts. [SEE AEI SPECIAL REPORT: SONAR FACT-CHECK]

Active Sonar News Archive

Biannual Sonar Training In Hawaii Gears Up, State Imposes New Directives - The biannual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise involving ships and 20,000 troops from ten countries is scheduled for June 29 to July 31. The public comment period on the proposed NOAA permits for the exercises closed June 23. As that period closed, however, the Hawaiian state Office of Planning has announced new directives meant to assure that sonar signals reaching the shore are less than 145dB, which would likely impose an effective 25-mile exclusion zone around the islands. The state also said that it expects the RIMPAC operations to adopt all the additional mitigation measures imposed by Federal District Court Judge David Ezra in his February ruling, which applied only to 12 smaller training exercises. The Navy has responded that it does not feel that Hawaii has legal standing to impose its own rules, but that it is willing to discuss the matter with the state; a similar move by the California Coastal Commission led to a series of legal actions that now await Supreme Court review. Source: Maui News, 6/22/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 6/25/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Japan, UK, Madagascar Strandings Spur Sonar Speculation - Reports of unusual stranding events around the world this week are each triggering questions about possible sonar connections, despite little clear evidence thus far. In Madagascar, over fifty melon-headed whales stranded and died after becoming trapped in a bay; in the UK, 26 common dolphins (mostly juveniles) died along the shores of an estuary river a pod of fifteen strayed into, perhaps feasting on fish feeding at an algae bloom, with up to seventy more following in the hours that followed, likely responding to their distress calls; other dolphins were found dead on two other nearby shorelines within 15km, including another estuary. In Japan, three Cuvier's beaked whales have been found dead on beaches in the past three weeks, the latest of 81 whale fatalities (9 of them Cuvier's) since March. In all three cases, initial comments from local environmental groups included speculation that sonar may be involved, though none clearly match the known patterns of sonar-induced strandings. (dolphins have not generally been involved; usually there are more fatalities than the single- and double-strandings in Japan; the deep-diving melon-headed whale event in Madagascar is the most suspicious, since they are usually found far offshore and, being deep divers, can be more dramatically affected by noise.) Certainly, it is a crucial to determine whether sonar was in use nearby, but the recent tendency to assume that any stranding is sonar-related could be an over-reaction, leading to jumping on tenuous connections. Still, the seas in all three areas are far from silent. In Madagascar, a seismic survey underway 45km away was shut down after the stranding; it is not clear why some think the whales would have entered a narrow bay mouth in response to such distant noise (unless the survey was in a larger bay nearby, from which fleeing whales may have been chased--details are sketchy). In the UK, Naval live fire exercises had been taking place for two weeks, and ended mid-day Sunday, with the first dolphins apparently stranding on Monday morning and many more entering the rivers that day; the fact that dolphins died in three areas justifies suspicions that they were fleeing something at sea, through the algae blooms and fish concentrations could also be the link. In Japan, questions have lingered for several years about possible connections between strandings and US Navy bases and exercises, with a 2004 research paper finding some correlation between mass strandings and Navy activity; information from Japan is also sparse, so it is unclear whether this spring's rash of whale strandings is more than normal in that area, or what the Naval connection may be. The UK dolphins were found fresh enough to take tissue samples for testing, while the Madagascar animals were buried in a mass grave without sampling, and the Japanese whales were too decomposed to take samples from. Sources: (UK) BBC, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], Daily Mail, 6/20/08 [READ ARTICLE], BBC, 6/10/08, 2nd article [READ ARTICLE], The Independent, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (UK/Madagascar) Brisbaine Times, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (Madagascar) BBC, 6/9/08 [READ ARTICLE] Global Voice, 6/11/08 [READ POST] AHN, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], ABC, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE], (Japan) Mainichi Daily News, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Complains About Varying Sonar Rules - After routine pre-deployment training exercises in Hawaii, some Navy personnel have complained that the differing operational requirements imposed by federal courts in Hawaii and California are complicating, and at times compromising, their mission. Rear Adm. James P. "Phil" Wisecup, commander of the strike group, said the changing sonar rules "just complicate things" in a warfare area that's already very complex. "In the end, just give me a standard, and I can meet it," Wisecup said, "But if the standard changes -- and it is changing from one area to another -- as different judges interpret the law and make decisions on a very complex issue -- then we have to adapt." As a result of federal court decisions in California, the Navy must shut down sonar when marine mammals are within 6,600 feet. For anti-submarine warfare training off Hawai'i, sonar intensity must be reduced starting at nearly 5,000 feet from mammals, and shut down at 1600 feet. (The Navy's preferred approach would begin reducing sonar power at 3000 feet and shut it off at 600 feet) Off the southern coast of California, the Navy said it must post three watchstanders and two National Marine Fisheries Service lookouts. Off Hawai'i, the Navy has to have three dedicated marine mammal lookouts and at least three watchstanders on the bridge team. Cmdr. Curtis Goodnight, commander of the Howard, said while training off Southern California in March, he had cornered a U.S. submarine playing the role of an adversary. Goodnight dispatched a helicopter to drop a sonobuoy, but the helicopter saw whales in the target area. "It interfered with the training very profoundly, because I then had to make a tactical decision — do I break contact with the submarine? Or, do I take a chance that the whales will clear and that the sonobuoy can be dropped and regain contact?" Goodnight said. "So these become commanders' decisions that you probably wouldn't make if someone was really trying to shoot at you." Paul Achitoff, lead lawyer in the Hawaii challenge, said the Navy's refusal to adapt their training procedures after earlier court cases is behind the differing court interpretations. "Throughout this litigation, both in California and here, and in the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals, the Navy's) position has been, time and time again, to absolutely reject any form of mitigation beyond what they themselves had proposed a long time ago," Achitoff said. Similarly, U.S. District Judge David Ezra last month noted the Navy was taking a "very hard line" in its request to modify his February court order governing Hawaiian training. Sources: Honolulu Advertister, 5/29/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertister, 6/3/08 (enviros and judge comment on Navy hard line) [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 5/29/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Releases First EIS for Sonar Training; Hawaii Range Targeted for Continued Sonar Training, Using Current Safety Procedures - The US Navy has released its first completed Environmental Impact Statement examining active sonar training activities, this one covering training in waters around Hawaii, and proposing to continue current Navy operating procedures, rather than adopting more stringent safety measures. Eleven other regional training ranges are receiving similar scrutiny, with draft EISs released for two, and the final decisions planned for all by the end of 2009. After a catastrophic stranding of beaked whales in the Bahamas in 2000, the Navy began working toward complying with NEPA (which requires analysis of activities that may cause harm to wildlife); after rebuffing discussions with NRDC in 2004 about the effects of mid-frequency sonar (which led to a lawsuit in 2005, not yet heard in court), the Navy began applying for Incidental Harassment permits in 2006, and began the EIS process for all of its training ranges in 2007, receiving a 2-year presidential exemption from NEPA to allow them to complete the EISs without being subject to lawsuits in the meantime. The Hawaii EIS is consistent with the other DEISs already released, proposing to continue sonar training at levels similar to current activity, with safety procedures similar to those the Navy has been using in recent years. The Navy is hoping that its detailed analysis of the effects of sonar on marine creatures will provide a legally defensible foundation for their safety measures, which include shutting down the system when whales are within 200 meters. Environmental advocates, and the states of Hawaii and California, have pushed for much larger safety zones and setting specific biologically-rich areas off-limits to sonar use; two Federal District court rulings have ruled against the Navy, and we can expect that the final EISs will face challenges as well. With some of the procedural challenges now off the table (earlier challenges focused on lack of NEPA and MMPA compliance, and the related lack of legal/scientific justification for the Navy's current safety measures), it will be interesting to see how far the courts decide to wade into the more strictly scientific arguments about the validity of the Navy's analysis of current data and of the risk to wildlife. Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 6/27/08 [READ ARTICLE] Hawaii Reporter, 6/26/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 6/26/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Supreme Court to Hear Sonar Appeal in Fall Term - The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Navy's appeal of California court rulings that have imposed additional safety measures on Navy sonar training. At issue is whether the judge – and a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the judge's ruling – overstepped their authority by enforcing environmental regulations at the expense of national defense training in wartime. US environmental regulations are "not a suicide pact," the Bush administration argued in its brief urging the high court to take up the case. The Navy has insisted that its own mitigation measures are sufficient, and in the California training planning, rejected additional safety measures requested by the California Coastal Commission; up til now, the Navy has not conducted full NEPA-compliance (Environmental Impact Statements), though this process has begun and will govern future training. Still, the current court case rides on the lack of formal NEPA and Endangered Species Act compliance, as the Navy received exemptions from both in the name of national security (the lower courts rejected one of these exemptions, a decision also at issue with the Supreme Court). "The district court determined, after an exhaustive review of thousands of pages of evidence, that there was a 'near certainty' that the [training] exercises would cause widespread, irreparable harm to the environment and that the Navy's planned mitigation was 'woefully inadequate,' " wrote Los Angeles lawyer Richard Kendall in his brief on behalf of the NRDC. The judge further found, Mr. Kendall wrote, that the (court-ordered measures) would be a minimal imposition on the Navy's planned training. The justices themselves will not resolve the debate over the extent of the harm. Rather, as presented to the Supreme Court, the case is a dispute over the limits of executive branch authority and the extent to which the courts should defer to military judgments. Sources: Christian Science Monitor, 6/24/08 [READ ARTICLE] LA Times, 6/24/08 [READ ARTICLE] New York Times, 6/24/08 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 6/24/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Biannual Sonar Training In Hawaii Gears Up, State Imposes New Directives - The biannual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise involving ships and 20,000 troops from ten countries is scheduled for June 29 to July 31. The public comment period on the proposed NOAA permits for the exercises closed June 23. As that period closed, however, the Hawaiian state Office of Planning has announced new directives meant to assure that sonar signals reaching the shore are less than 145dB, which would likely impose an effective 25-mile exclusion zone around the islands. The state also said that it expects the RIMPAC operations to adopt all the additional mitigation measures imposed by Federal District Court Judge David Ezra in his February ruling, which applied only to 12 smaller training exercises. The Navy has responded that it does not feel that Hawaii has legal standing to impose its own rules, but that it is willing to discuss the matter with the state; a similar move by the California Coastal Commission led to a series of legal actions that now await Supreme Court review. Source: Maui News, 6/22/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 6/25/08 [READ ARTICLE]

US Navy Continues Campaign to Calm Sonar Fears, Resist New Restrictions; Scientists Question Navy's "Absolute" Threshold of Proof of Harm - The US Navy continued its increasingly adamant defense of its mid-frequency sonar training program this week, with the US Pacific Fleet Commander telling reporters that court-ordered restrictions are making it more difficult to train. Admiral Robert Willard said that one of his strike groups showed “adequate, although degraded” anti-submarine warfare proficiency during recent exercises off California. The fleet certified the group anyway, but noted the ships altered standard techniques and procedures to comply with court rulings. Willard said sailors were learning artificial tactics they wouldn't use in the real world. “Translate that into the Western Pacific or into the Middle East, where quiet diesel-powered submarines exist in large numbers, and we're potentially in trouble,” Willard said. Meanwhile, during a field trip to a Navy destroyer off the coast of Virginia, Jene Nissen, the Navy's environmental acoustics manager, said the Navy was working hard to align their practices with what scientists say is necessary, stressing the lack of any strandings "linked scientifically" to Navy activities during 40 years of presence on the east coast. Some of the scientists on board as experts for the press questioned the Navy's absolute assurance, noting several incidents in which mid-frequency sonar is suspected of causing strandings or agitated reaction among whales, though absolute proof was not found. Nina Young of the Ocean Leadership Consortium (a program that coordinates several agency ocean programs) said the Navy uses uncertain cause of death rulings to downplay possible links between sonar and mammals. "It's unfortunate that the threshold for the Navy seems so absolute, and the burden of proof so high, that it undermines efforts to engage in a productive discussion, she said. Andrew Wright, a marine mammal scientist who has worked for the Marine Mammal Commission and NOAA, said definitive proof of sonar's effect on whales didn't exist until recently. "We've only really known about the problem since 2000, 2002. We don't have long-term information, even on humans," Wright said later. "There's so much uncertainty around this, and it all depends on where you place the burden of proof." Sources: The Virginian-Pilot, 6/16/08 [READ ARTICLE] San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/10/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Rash of UK Strandings of Deep-diving Whales Raise Questions - Since the beginning of this year, beaked whales and pilot whales have been showing up on Scottish and Irish beaches in unprecedented numbers. There are still (as of late April) no solid indications that active sonar is a factor, but the preponderance of deep-diving whales is raising questions. At least 17 bodies have been found in Ireland, and 24 in Scotland. "In the majority of cases, the animals died at sea and washed ashore in an advanced state of decomposition, which raises the question of how many others stranded in inaccessible locations or did not wash ashore at all," said Mick O'Connell of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. Most have been found on commonly-visited beaches, so are unlikely to have been on shore for long without being seen. In early February, several strandings took place in northern Scotland; these strandings were the first to became public, in early April, along with speculation that they may have died at seas as much as two weeks prior to coming ashore. In response to questions since then, the UK Navy has said that no vessels were in that area using sonar at time of the February strandings; it is unclear how specific they have been about the timeline in the week or two preceding the strandings, or whether they have addressed earlier or later periods, during which other Irish and Scottish strandings have occurred. While the decomposed bodies cannot provide clear indications of the cause of death, a few of the victims have been fresh; it is unclear whether tissue samples have been taken of any of the bodies. Almost all discoveries have been of a single animal. Both beaked and pilot whales are deep-diving species; beaked whales strandings have been associated with sonar-related injuries in some cases, while pilot whales are found stranded fairly commonly, often in groups. Meanwhile, a routine training exercise is about to begin off the Scottish coast, involving 36 warships and about 70 aircraft from the UK and 16 NATO countries. Sources: Irish Independent, 4/20/08 [READ ARTICLE] BBC, 4/18/08 [READ ARTICLE] Independent, 4/7/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Looks to Supreme Court for Sonar Relief - The US Navy has, as widely expected, asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by a Federal Appeals Court that upheld a lower court ruling imposing a larger buffer zone and other additional operational restrictions on its sonar training in southern California. The Justice Department petition argues that the restrictions jeopardize the Navy's ability to train sailors and Marines for service in wartime, and could possibly prevent certification of some naval strike groups preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf. The agency also contends that national security interests can trump those of marine mammals, and that its use of mid-frequency sonar in training exercises hasn't caused any documented harm to dolphins or beaked whales in the waters where they're conducted. "We believe that this is an issue that is absolutely essential to national security and that a Supreme Court review of this case is warranted," said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman. The Navy specifically addressed two key restrictions: "The 2200 yard shutdown zone has a radius eleven times greater than the existing zone developed in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, effectively imposing a 4.9-square mile shutdown zone around each of our ships. The requirement to reduce sonar power during significant surface ducting conditions would prevent our ships from detecting submarines in the very conditions in which submarines seek to hide, even when marine mammals are nowhere in sight." The NRDC, which is lead plaintiff in the legal challenges to the Navy's procedures, noted that the lower courts had concluded that hundreds of beaked whales would be exposed to sonar signals, and expressed confidence that the legal foundation of the rulings would stand. "We expected the Navy to seek review in the Supreme Court but we'd be surprised if the court agrees to take the case," said NRDC lawyer Cara Horowitz. NRDC feels that the lower court ruling are "fact-based" rather than interpreting legal precedent, making Supreme Court review unlikely; the Navy legal team may see it differently, as they feel the lower courts have misintrerpreted aspects of the impact analysis. Still, the dispute is over science and operational procedures more than legal issues; whether the Supremes will choose to wade into such difficult waters remains to be seen. Sources: AP, 3/31/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News Service, 4/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] The Jurist, 4/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] City on a Hill Press, 4/10/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Releases Southern California Sonar Draft EIS, Proposals Fall Short of Court Orders - The Navy has released its long-planned Draft Environmental Impact Statement on offshore training exercises in Southern California, including the use of mid-frequency active sonar. Recent legal challenges to the Navy training, in which a circuit court judge imposed additional restrictions on use and an appeals court upheld the ruling, have been based on both the Navy's previous lack of comprehensive environmental analysis, and on the standing of the California Coastal Commission to impose its own restrictions beyond those imposed by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service. The DEIS continues to make the case that the Navy's existing operational procedures, developed in consort with NMFS, provide adequate protection to marine life; California state officials and laywers told the press that they are likely to challenge the final EIS if additional safety measures are not added. One such court-ordered restriction, a 12-mile coastal buffer zone free of sonar, was addressed by Capt. Neil May of the Navy's 3rd Fleet in San Diego, who said the coastal buffer would block ships from using sonar when helping the Marine Corps practice landings on the beaches of Camp Pendleton. To make such exercises more realistic, he said, the Navy would like submarines to try to sneak up on the expeditionary strike groups. "We will push back on anything that inhibits realistic training or strays from science," May said. Comments on the DEIs will be accepted through May 19. This is one of several regional EISs that the Navy is aiming to complete during 2008 and 2009. Sources: LATimes, 4/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] [NAVY SOCAL RANGE COMPLEX WEBSITE]
Related: Hawaii Restrictions Frustrate Navy - After conducting a series of training exercises in which recent court-ordered restrictions were followed, the Navy expressed concern that such restrictions would hamper training if imposed permanently. “[The court order] adds up to a very complicated situation that forces the sailors aboard those ships to devote more time and attention to marine mammal issues than to the anti-submarine warfare training that’s the point of the exercise,” said Capt. W. Scott Gureck, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet. Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney representing several groups that sued the Navy over sonar use in Hawaii waters, questioned the Navy's claim, noting that “There are a bunch of vessels in each exercise, so you’ve probably got 1,000 personnel out there on the water, and probably only about six of them have to even think about marine mammals, or maybe 10, or whatever, and the rest of them are doing completely other things,” Achitoff said. “So the [Navy] statement is absurd on its face.” The training impact of other additional safety measures, more substantial than manpower devoted to observing whales, including larger zones in which sonar must be powered down, were not addressed by either side in the exchange. Source: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/31/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Marianas Islands Touted as Key Sonar Training Area - Citing the need to protect global trade that travels predominantly by ship, Ed Lynch of the US Navy Pacific Fleet told the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council that sonar training taking place in the waters of the Marianas Islands is crucial to global security. The mix of deep and shallow waters provides the necessary mix, and the relative lack of whales is also a plus. The Western Pacific is home to both of the Navy's two ships outfitted with low-frequency active sonar, and an EIS currently in process will govern mid-frequency active sonar. The local government, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, has been attempting to establish its ownership of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands; US federal courts have rejected the claims, saying that CNMI surrendered these rights when it became a commonwealth of the US. Source: Marianas Variety, 3/23/08 [READ ARTICLE] [MARIANAS SONAR EIS WEBSITE]

California Appeals Court Hands Navy Sonar Setback; Supreme Court May be Next - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday night rejected the Navy's appeal of restrictions that banned high-powered sonar within 12 nautical miles of the coast and set other limits that could affect Navy training exercises to begin this month. One of the key measures upheld by the court was the maintainance of a 2200-yard safety zone, with sonar being shut down if a whale enters that radius; the Navy called for a 200-yard shut-down zone, with power-reductions starting only when a whale came within 1000 yards. Navy commanders suggest the expanded radius will cause disruptions to training, necessitating shut downs five times as often. The appeals court closely analyzed Navy documents, and suggested that marine mammal monitoring information from the six exercises (out of 14 weeklong missions currently planned) indicate that the 2200-yard safety zone would have only led to 21 extra shut-down in total, or two to three per week of training. They also noted that the Australian Navy maintains a 4400-yard safety zone. The Navy received a key concession from the court, however: for planned training sessions beginning this week, and another set of missions later in the month, the Navy can maintain sonar transmissions if a whale enters the 2200-yard zone during a "critical point" in the training. This temporary stay on the new rules is meant to give the Navy time to take its case to the Supreme Court before subsequent trainings. While the Navy maintains that restrictions beyond its own safety measures--including reducing sonar sound levels and prohibiting transmissions in certain ocean conditions that may increase impacts on marine mammals--will hamper their ability to certify crews for overseas deployment, the appeals panel said it reviewed "with the utmost care" the Navy's classified affidavits on such issues and concluded that the proposed additional measures "will not likely compromise the Navy's ability to effectively train and certify its West Coast strike groups." Sources: LA Times, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News Service, 3/3/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Previous: Federal Judge Rejects White House Exemptions for Sonar - The federal judge who imposed additional safety requirements on Naval mid-frequency active sonar training off the California coast has rejected the Bush administration's attempt to exempt the Navy from the laws she was enforcing. Central to this ruling is the fact that there is no "emergency" that warrents such intervention by the White House; the training missions at issue have been long planned, and can proceed, albeit with larger safety buffers and some geographic restrictions to avoid areas with higher numbers of whales. U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote that the Navy's position "produces the absurd result of permitting agencies to avoid their NEPA obligations by re-characterizing ordinary, planned activities as 'emergencies' in the interests of national security, economic stability, or other long-term policy goals. This cannot be consistent with Congressional intent," she ruled. "It is a bedrock principle of our government that neither the military nor the president is above the law," said Richard Kendall, co-counsel with NRDC in the lawsuit. "Judge Cooper has upheld that fundamental doctrine." The Navy has completed six of 14 large-scale training exercises scheduled off the coast between February 2007 and January 2009. It decided not to conduct a full environmental review before the operations, saying it already posted lookouts and took other adequate protective measures. But Cooper, in an order last August, said those measures were "woefully ineffectual and inadequate" and would leave nearly 30 species of marine mammals, including five species of protected whales, at risk of harm.


Sonar Technicians monitor contacts off the coast of Southern California during a Joint Task Force Exercise in early 2008. (US Navy photo)

"The U.S. Navy has trained in Southern California for the past 40 years and they have had zero incidents with marine mammals - no strandings, no deaths, and no documented injuries," said Rear Adm. Larry Rice, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division. "We want to keep that up," added Rice. "In order to accomplish this, we have 29 protective measures that we already employ. The additional training restrictions that the court levied on us frankly don't help us take care of the environment--and it restricts our training." Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, commented, "I don't know what it's going to take for the Navy to get it. The courts have said over and over that the Navy must follow the law." The Navy has appealed Cooper's ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which resisted ruling on the validity of the exemptions in January, sending the case back to Cooper instead. Sources: Los Angeles Times, 2/5/08 [READ ARTICLE] Environmental News Service, 2/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 2/4/08 (announcing new sonar website) [READ ARTICLE] [NAVY SONAR WEBSITE]

Dolpin Strands on Navy Island at End of Recent Sonar Exercises - A single deep-water Northern right whale dolphin was found live-beached on San Nicolas Island on January 29, during a heavily scrutinized Naval training exercise. Navy personnel returned it to the water several times, but it did not survive. Curators at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History worked all night to perform a necropsy because clues are lost to rapid decomposition. The head was removed and refrigerated, then taken to the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center for magnetic resonance imaging. “At this point, we cannot rule in or rule out sonar or any other kind of intense noise,” said Teri Rowles, a veterinarian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and head of the nation’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Rowles said the initial review confirmed increased fluid in the ears. "That could be blood; it could be infection or parasites -- those are the three more common causes of fluid in the ears," she said. Or it could be trauma related to sonar, though Rowles cautioned against jumping to conclusions until more detailed studies are completed. "The lesions that we have seen to date are consistent to what has been found in whales in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas," Rowles said. More conclusive results will not come until pathologists can complete microscopic examination of the brain, the ears, and other tissues to look for gas or fat bubbles and related hemorrhaging. Such injury has been termed "gas and fat embolic syndrome," and is considered nearly synonymous with sonar exposure injuries, though it is not entirely clear whether the sound, or a behavioral reaction such as changed dive patterns, causes the damage. The microscopic analysis of most tissues should take about a month, Rowles said. It could take as long as a year to examine the ears because the bones must be slowly dissolved in fluid to reveal soft tissues inside. Previous sonar-induced strandings have involved multiple animals; northern right whale dolphins live in groups of 100-1000 animals, making this single stranding somewhat unusual. A Navy spokesman said that the nearest ship using mid-frequency active sonar was 62 miles away the previous day, and was not part of the exercise. Source: LA Times, 2/22/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Hawaii Court Adds Restrictions to Navy Sonar Training - A Federal District Court in Hawaii has issued a preliminary injunction forcing the Navy to use additional safety measures during routine mid-frequency sonar training in Hawaii waters; Judge David Ezra will hold another hearing in April to consider long-term measures. The restrictions are slightly less strict than those imposed by a different District Court in California: Ezra increased the safety zone in which sonar must be powered down by 6db, from the Navy's 1000m to 1500m, and sonar must be shut down if a whale is within 500, rather than 200m as they Navy planned. Other court-ordered measures include staying 12 miles offshore, and prohibiting sonar use with multiple ships in areas with rapid changes in depth and narrow channels (the Navy now generally avoids such areas, but has in the past stressed the need to use some particular areas in Hawaii for such training, after being sure whales are not present). U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement that the restrictions "could seriously impact our ability to train effectively." Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said he'll be seeking a permanent injunction. The order issued by Ezra will "have influence on the way in which they (the Navy) do any exercises from now on in Hawai'i," he added. It is unclear how this ruling will factor into the Navy's forthcoming first-ever Hawaii Training Range EIS, to be released this spring and meant to govern all sonar training in the area. Ezra's order seems to be trying to protect whales from exposures on the edge of the Navy's safety threshold of 173dB (which he suggested should be lower), by expanding the safety zone and ordering power to be reduced in more circumstances. His approach to balancing training needs and environmental concerns was somewhat more flexible than provisions imposed by other courts, including a graduated decrease of sonar power when 1, 2, or 3 specified environmental conditions are present. Still, some of those conditions (including surface ducts and choke points) are considered important to the Navy for some training sessions. Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] KITV, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE, SEE VIDEO]
Previous: Third Sonar Suit in Hawaii; Hearing Held, Ruling Soon - In yet another lawsuit pushing for expanded mitigation measures, a federal district court in Hawaii has heard arguments will issue a ruling prior to planned Navy exercises at the end of March. The issues were largely similar to those in other recent mid-frequency sonar challenges, urging reduction or ceasing of sonar transmissions in times of limited visibility, among other things. The Navy is arguing that these exercises are different than the ones in California, with fewer marine mammals in the area likely to be exposed to sonar sounds. U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he had received "top secret" information from the Navy, as well as non-classified 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 visited a Navy ship on the day after arguments, to observe sonar operations. The training exercises prepare crews for tours of duty in the western Pacific and Persian Gulf; the Navy hopes to conduct a dozen such routine training exercises over the coming two years. Source: KITV, 2/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 2/11/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Dolphin Strands on Navy Island at End of Recent Sonar Exercises - A single deep-water Northern right whale dolphin was found live-beached on San Nicolas Island on January 29, during a heavily scrutinized Naval training exercise. Navy personnel returned it to the water several times, but it did not survive. Curators at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History worked all night to perform a necropsy because clues are lost to rapid decomposition. The head was removed and refrigerated, then taken to the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center for magnetic resonance imaging. “At this point, we cannot rule in or rule out sonar or any other kind of intense noise,” said Teri Rowles, a veterinarian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and head of the nation’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Rowles said the initial review confirmed increased fluid in the ears. "That could be blood; it could be infection or parasites -- those are the three more common causes of fluid in the ears," she said. Or it could be trauma related to sonar, though Rowles cautioned against jumping to conclusions until more detailed studies are completed. "The lesions that we have seen to date are consistent to what has been found in whales in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas," Rowles said. More conclusive results will not come until pathologists can complete microscopic examination of the brain, the ears, and other tissues to look for gas or fat bubbles and related hemorrhaging. Such injury has been termed "gas and fat embolic syndrome," and is considered nearly synonymous with sonar exposure injuries, though it is not entirely clear whether the sound, or a behavioral reaction such as changed dive patterns, causes the damage. The microscopic analysis of most tissues should take about a month, Rowles said. It could take as long as a year to examine the ears because the bones must be slowly dissolved in fluid to reveal soft tissues inside. Previous sonar-induced strandings have involved multiple animals; northern right whale dolphins live in groups of 100-1000 animals, making this single stranding somewhat unusual. A Navy spokesman said that the nearest ship using mid-frequency active sonar was 62 miles away the previous day, and was not part of the exercise. Source: LA Times, 2/22/08 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Hosts Acoustic Research Conference in Hawaii - One hundred Navy-funded scientists, fleet operators, and environmental staff attended a two-day conference in Hawaii in early February. The gathering, hosted by OPNAV N45, the Navy's environmental readiness command, ended with agreement to hold future gatherings to discuss issues ranging from the direction of future research to procedural improvements. While great progress has been made in recent years, many of the speakers noted that much remains to be learned about how sound behaves underwater and how it affects marine mammals. For example, Dr. Jim Finneran of the Navy Marine Mammal Program said hearing thresholds have been determined for 25 species of marine mammals through painstaking research. Hearing thresholds for the more than 100 other marine mammal species, including all of the large, baleen whales, have not yet been determined. The Navy spends $18 million per year on marine mammal research. "With a strong scientific foundation, we hope to be able to continue the sonar training that's so vital to protecting our Sailors at sea and become even better at preventing harm to marine mammals," said Adm. Robert Willard. "We're not sure some of the environmental organizations share our concern about understanding the science," he added. Source: Hawaii Reporter, 2/12/08 [READ ARTICLE]

California Coastal Commission Imposes Extra Safety Measures on Sonar Training - In early 2007, a year-long legal battle was initiated when the California Coastal Commission asserted its authority to move beyond an advisory role, and imposed more stringent safety measures on Navy mid-frequency active sonar training off the Southern California coast. The Navy has trained there for decades, but as part of a new commitment to compliance with environmental regulations, had for the first time applied for NMFS and CCC approval for its proposed operational and mitigation procedures. The following News Digest items follow the progress of the case from January through January 2008; see recent news [ABOVE] for more recent developments.
California Coastal Commission Adds Limits to Navy Active Sonar - For the first time, the US Navy has applied for approval from the California Coastal Commission before initiating mid-frequency active sonar training missions off the southern California coast. The CCC responded by imposing restrictions beyond those commonly imposed by federal regulatory agencies; among the additional safety measures required by the CCC are a maximum received level (sound experienced by whales) of 154dB, rather than the 173db required by NMFS or the 190dB proposed by the Navy, avoiding biologically-rich seamounts, and shutting down the sonar completely when whales are closer than 2km from the Navy ship. The Navy is taking the new requirements under consideration; if they refuse to comply, then the CCC or environmental groups could ask the courts to intervene. Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, 1/11/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/11/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Rejects CCC Requirements
- Citing a lack of jurisdiction, the Navy has announced that it will proceed with active sonar training off the California Coast without adopting the additional safety requirements imposed by the California Coastal Commission. The Navy plans to continue to engage the Commission as it prepares an EIS for sonar training, and will employ its own safety measures. "We can be responsible environmental stewards while our sonar operators receive the realistic training and experience at sea they need," said Vice Adm. Barry Costello. In addition, the Navy said the Marine Mammal Protection Act "preempts state regulation." In late January, the Navy was granted a two-year exemption from that act, so it could have the time to work out proper safeguards. "It's ironic that the Navy takes the position that the Marine Mammal Protection Act preempts other laws right after it gets exempted from that law," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If the Coastal Commission doesn't sue, we will," Reynolds added. Sources: Navy Press Release, 2/12/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Navy Environmental Assessment Statement [DOWNLOAD STATEMENT (618P PDF)] Los Angeles Times, 2/14/07 [READ ARTICLE] North County Times, 2/14/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Sonar Training Off California Halted by Court - A federal court has upheld a challenge by environmental groups, ruling that the Navy must hold off on active sonar transmissions off the southern California coast until the court hears the case. The Navy had earlier rejected the Coastal Commission's more stringent monitoring and operational requirements, saying that their own protective measures were sufficient. The judge also took issue with an array of measures to protect whales that the Navy has already put in place, including rules that prohibit using the sonar within 1,000 yards of marine mammals. Sound waves may not dissipate to sublethal levels for more than 5,000 yards, she noted. Environmental lawyers have argued for a larger safety zone, as well as for a 12-mile buffer along the coastline. They want training missions to remain a respectful distance from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and they want the Navy to use acoustic monitoring as well as spotters in aircraft to watch for whales.To remove the temporary ban, the Navy will have to take the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Navy lawyers plan to move quickly because the next training mission is scheduled to begin in September. The lawsuit, according to environmental lawyers, could be settled quickly if the Navy would agree to more sweeping precautions, such as shutting off or reducing the intensity of the sonar when visibility is too low for spotters stationed on deck to see whales that venture into harm's way. Sources: LA Times, 8/7/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Gets Court Temporary OK For Sonar Training off California Coast - A Federal appeals court has lifted an injunction imposed by a lower court, allowing the Navy to proceed with planned mid-frequency active sonar training missions off the California coast while awaiting a full hearing, planned for early November. This particular challenge to active sonar was initiated after the Navy rejected additional mitigation measures imposed by the California Coastal Commission (including lower sound levels and suspension of training in times of low visibility). The lower court simply imposed an injunction, and the appeals court ruled 2-1 that national security needs must be balanced with the environmental concerns, primarily related to possible disruption or injury of whales. The Navy claims that their trainings have only rarely affected whales, while the NRDC is asking for the inclusion of more stringent safety measures. The panel ruled that the lower court had not explained why a full injunction was necessary, rather than proceeding with sonar exercises with the imposition of additional mitigation; it also suggested the navy may have an uphill battle at the full hearing: "Nor does the Navy explain why it no longer proposes to use these mitigation measures, a factor that militates against its probability of full success on the merits in district court." Sources: LA Times, 9/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 9/4/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Federal Court Rules in Favor of Increased Protections for Whales While Awaiting Full Hearing in California Sonar Case
- The continuing legal battle between the US Navy and environmental groups pushing for additional safety measures during mid-frequency active sonar training off the California coast has tipped in favor of those challenging current Navy protocols. A Federal Appeals Court has reinstated, in modified form, an injunction imposed by US District Court Judge Forence-Marie Cooper, who is preparing to hear the challenge. The injunction was initially overturned the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, but a different 9th Circuit three-judge panel has now refocused the discussion to encourage temporary compromises by the Navy as the parties wait for the full hearing. In its five-page ruling, the three judges said that the environmental groups had shown a "strong likelihood" of winning their lawsuit and that the Navy had, in other places, used many of the additional safeguards those groups have been pushing. At the same time, the panel said Cooper did not explain why "a broad, absolute injunction . . . for two years was necessary to avoid irreparable harm to the environment." The panel ordered the judge to narrow the injunction to allow the Navy to increase its safeguards and proceed with training exercises that military officials say are needed to certify sailors as battle-ready. The ruling will bring both sides together to hammer out a solution, although the federal district court may unilaterally set conditions on sonar use. “There are some so-called mitigative or protective measures that have been suggested that we found were not necessarily productive or impinged on our training,” Pacific Fleet spokesman Mark Matsunaga said. Attorney Richard Kendell, representing environmental groups, said, "Our position has been the same all along: We are not opposed to training, but we are opposed to training without precautions that will prevent unnecessary harm to whales and other marine mammals." The California Coastal Commission, which also sought additional safeguards that were rejected by the Navy, has joined the lawsuit, which asks larger safety radius, powering down of sonar at night and in low visibility conditions, and avoiding Gray whale migration routes, and other safeguards. The Navy has contended that the mid-frequency sonar, which officials say is needed to train the fleet to hunt down potential threats from modern, super-quiet submarines, hasn’t harmed the environment. “In over 40 years of sonar training in the Southern California Operating Area, no stranding or injury of a marine mammal has been associated with the Navy’s use of sonar,” U.S. Pacific Fleet officials said in a Nov. 12 statement. Fourteen large-scale West Coast exercises — joint task force and composite unit training exercises — scheduled through 2009 would be affected under the two-year restriction. Sources: LA Times, 11/14/07 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Times, 11/15/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Federal Court Restricts Mid-frequency Sonar Off California - In a ruling culminating a multi-month legal process, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ordered the Navy to refrain from using submarine-hunting mid-frequency active sonar within 12 miles of the coast and in a biologically-rich canyon between two islands, and to shut down the sonar any time marine mammals are spotted within 2200 yards (rather than the gradual reduction of volume beginning when whales are 1100 yards away, with shut down at 200 yards, that the Navy proposed). Because scientists have chronicled panicked responses from marine mammals as far as 40 kilometers away, Cooper said the 2,200-yard shutdown requirement "represents a minimal imposition of the Navy's training exercises" while preventing the harshest sonar-related consequences. In addition, for the first, time, the Navy will be required to reduce the power of transmissions during times when "surface ducting" conditions are present (combination of temperature and salinity that carries sound further before it dissipates to safe levels). "It's a complete vindication" of the California Coastal Commission's attempts to compel the Navy to be more precautionary, said Peter Douglas, the commission's executive director. "We know there are things that the Navy can do to protect marine mammals while they conduct their exercises, but the Navy refused. The court said, 'No, you have to comply.' " In her attempts to balance environmental and national defense concerns, the judge refused to bar the Navy from conducting exercises off the Tanner and Cortez banks, and the Westfall seamount -- undersea mountains that tend to attract whales. Nor would she set any restrictions on operations at night or in the fog or other times of low visibility, when spotting marine mammals may prove difficult. Instead, she opted for a more rigorous effort to keep watch for whales, including using passive acoustic monitoring to listen for whale clicks, chirps and songs -- especially for those of deep-diving beaked whales, which appear to be particularly sensitive to sonar activities. Vice Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet in San Diego, said in an interview prior to the ruling that the Navy already has 29 procedures in place to avoid harming marine mammals, and that the limits the NRDC and the state's coastal commission were seeking would cripple sonar training. "We appreciate the time and care the court has taken to become familiar with the issue, including Judge Cooper's visit to a ship and talking to Sailors in San Diego about Navy sonar training operations," said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman. "Despite the care the Court took in crafting its order, we do not believe it struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns." Sources: LA Times, 1/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 1/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 1/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] Read the Court Order (18p): [DOWNLOAD COURT ORDER]
Presidential Order Exempts Navy From Laws Enforced by California Judge in Sonar Ruling
- Less than two weeks after a Federal Court ordered the Navy to take additional precautions to protect whales when doing mid-frequency active sonar training off the California coast, a Presidential order exempted the Navy from the need to comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act and the White House Council on Environmental Quality granted an exemption to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Navy claims the Court order "profoundly interferes with the Navy's global management of U.S. strategic forces, its ability to conduct warfare operations, and ultimately places the lives of American sailors and Marines at risk." While While Bush has no authority to overturn a court injunction, with the exemption in hand, the Navy asked a three-judge panel in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to vacate the injunction. Instead, the Appeals Court sent the case back to District Court Judge Cooper, who imposed the new restrictions on January 4. Cooper responded by immediately giving some ground, at least temporarily setting aside two of the new restrictions that the Navy felt were especially difficult to live with: the expasion of the shut-down zone to 2200 yards and reducing sonar power during times when "surface ducting" conditions are present (which can allow sound to travel further without losing much intensity). Cooper will hold a hearing next week to hear full arguments from both sides. NEPA does not have an "escape clause" allowing exemptions, while both the coastal zone and marine mammal protection acts do allow for waivers. "The president's action is an attack on the rule of law," said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, who also stressed that the situation is not an emergency, since sonar training can continue under the Court order (not to mention in other training grounds around the world). Source: LA Times, 1/18/08 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 1/16/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 1/16/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Judge Sets Aside Two New Restrictions But Retains Most After Presidential Order Attempts to Exempt Navy From Laws in Question - Less than two weeks after a Federal Court ordered the Navy to take additional precautions to protect whales when doing mid-frequency active sonar training off the California coast, a Presidential order exempted the Navy from the need to comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act and the White House Council on Environmental Quality granted an exemption to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Navy claims the Court order "profoundly interferes with the Navy's global management of U.S. strategic forces, its ability to conduct warfare operations, and ultimately places the lives of American sailors and Marines at risk." While Bush has no authority to overturn a court injunction, with the exemption in hand, the Navy asked a three-judge panel in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to vacate the injunction. Instead, the Appeals Court sent the case back to District Court Judge Cooper, who imposed the new restrictions on January 4. Cooper responded by immediately giving some ground, at least temporarily setting aside two of the new restrictions that the Navy felt were especially difficult to live with: the expasion of the shut-down zone to 2200 yards and reducing sonar power during times when "surface ducting" conditions are present (which can allow sound to travel further without losing much intensity). Cooper will hold a hearing next week to hear full arguments from both sides. NEPA does not have an "escape clause" allowing exemptions, while both the coastal zone and marine mammal protection acts do allow for waivers. "The president's action is an attack on the rule of law," said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, who also stressed that the situation is not an emergency, since sonar training can continue under the Court order (not to mention in other training grounds around the world). Source: LA Times, 1/18/08 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 1/16/08 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 1/16/08 [READ ARTICLE]
Federal Judge Rejects White House Exemptions for Sonar - The federal judge who imposed additional safety requirements on Naval mid-frequency active sonar training off the California coast has rejected the Bush administration's attempt to exempt the Navy from the laws she was enforcing. (THIS ENTRY IS INCLUDED IN THE RECENT NEWS SECTION, ABOVE...)

Navy to Revise Atlantic Coast Naval Warfare Training Range DEIS - Two years ago, the Navy published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for an Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) being planned, with potential sites off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, or Florida. After being flooded with comments from the public, state agencies, and federal agencies, the Navy has decided to revise and reissue the Draft EIS, rather than move forward to a final EIS. A new scoping period for the DEIS is now open, through October 22. The new DEIS will be changed to include a fourth possible site, off Charleston, SC. In addtion, the Navy is working with NOAA Fisheries (formerly NMFS) to develop a better way to analyze the behavioral impacts on marine mammals. NOAA had been unusually direct in its critique of the Navy's previous approach, which was based on a simple maximum sound level criterion; over the past couple of years, a "dose response" approach has been developed, which accounts for the impact of lower sound sources occuring over longer perdiods of time. Further, the Navy's previous reliance on hearing and behavioral tests using captive dolphins will be expanded to include assessment of the responses of wild animals. Sources: PilotOnline, 10/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] Delmar Daily Times, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] Charlotte News-Observer, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE]

LFAS Poised for More Widespread Deployment - NOAA is preparing to issue permits allowing expanded deployment of Low Frequency Active Sonar by the US Navy. For the past several years, the high-powered sonar, designed to detect "quiet" enemy submarines, has been limited to a small area of the West Pacific, as part of a settlement of a court challenge. Now, having completed a new round of environmental assessment, the Navy is preparing to use the system in most of the world's oceans, and to install the sonar on two new ships, in addition to the two already in use. Environmental advocates, including the NRDC, lead litigants in the suit that forced the reduced deployment pending further study, contend that the Navy has failed to show that more widespread deployment can be conducted safely. "The fact of the matter is they turn this system on and they have no real idea what it's doing because it goes so far they can't monitor it, much less regulate it," said NRDC's Joel Reynolds. Ken Hollingshead of NOAA Fisheries (NMFS) says Navy trials seem to show that while some kinds of whales stop singing and swim away when the sonar waves hit, there's no evidence that these whales have been harmed in any way. He adds that his agency will make sure the Navy takes a lot of steps – from visual observers to passive listening devices — to insure that the sonar isn't even turned on when whales are nearby. Sources: NPR All Things Considered, 7/24/07 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7/11/07 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Releasee, 7/13/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Seattle Post-Intelligencer Staff Blog, 7/12/07 [READ POST] AP/The Guardian, 7/12/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Perspective: Navy Admiral Letter to Editor, Post-Star, 7/17/07 [READ LETTER] Pacific Fleet Commander, in NavyCompass, 6/29/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Draft EIS Released for Hawaii Naval Training - The Navy has released a draft EIS that will, when finalized in late 2008, provide a framework naval training in Hawaiian waters, rather than assessing each training individually. The Navy has granted itself an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, pending completion of this and similar EIS's in other areas where sonar training takes place. Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Times, 7/28/07 [READ ARTICLE] KGMB, 7/27/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Related/Previous: Navy Sued Over Upcoming Hawaii Sonar Exercises - Earthjustice and other environmental organizations have filed suit in federal court, asking that the Navy be required to impose additional safety measures before staging more active sonar training missions in waters around Hawii; twelve such missions are planned for 2007 and 2008. The plaintiffs complain that the National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, relying almost entirely on the Navy's assessments, made little effort to analyze the sonar's effects or require the Navy to implement protective mitigation, such as that to which the Navy agreed for the 2006 RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii. The Navy prepared and Envionmental Assessment for the series of exercises, which suggests that temporary disruption of feeding and migration patterns will cause insignficant impacts on the local populations; plaintiffs suggest a more complete Environmental Impact Statement should have been prepared. The Navy has been exempted from the Marine Mammal Protection Act while it prepares EIS's covering sonar impacts. A Navy spokesman said the service was complying with all applicable laws and regulations, adding that sailors have used active sonar in two undersea warfare exercises in the islands since January without incident. “We go to great lengths to minimize any potential effects on marine life through the use of protective measures and make every effort to safeguard marine mammals when exercises are conducted,” said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Additional observers and the use of airplanes during exercises are planned to increase the chance that whales will be spotted before being exposed to sonar signals. The lawsuit also names the National Marine Fisheries Service, which awards permits to the Navy to carry out underwater exercises. Jim Lecky, director of the office of protected resources at the Fisheries Service, said his organization was working with the Navy to finish environmental studies governing anti-submarine warfare exercises. Sources: Environmental News Service, 5/15/07 [READ ARICLE] AP/NavyTimes, 5/17/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar to be Deployed from Helicopters - A new form of low-freqency sonar is being prepared for use from helicopters, allowing far easier deployment in areas of special interest to the Navy. Initial reports about this "AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar (ALFS)" do not provide details about source levels, so the likely range over which it is expected to be useful, and could also be audible to wildlife, is not certain. Source: Defense Industry Daily, 8/20/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Sonar Study Shows Little Effect on Fish - A study in which fish were held in a cage and exposed to the sounds of low frequency active sonar has shown that salmonoid fish seem to be little affected by the sounds. After a week of sound exposure, no fish died, and there was no damage to the fish's auditory system, though there was some presumably short-term loss in hearing sensitivity, and some increased swimming activity at the onset of the sounds. By contrast, a similar study by the same research team had shown long-term damage to ear hair cells when fish were exposed to seismic survey air guns. Source: Physorg.com, 7/5/07 [READ ARTICLE]

North Carolina Stranding Renews Sonar Concerns, Though Time/Distance Suggest Other Causes - The stranding of a beaked whale on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has renewed concerns about the impacts of active sonar, particularly a proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range proposed for the region. The nursing mother whale was found dead, with bleeding from the ears; ten days earlier, an active sonar training mission had taken place 150 miles offshore. News reports are sketchy, but indicate that samples were taken for autopsy, which suggest that the body was relatively fresh when found. While beaked whales are the family that has been most susceptible to injury from active sonar, beachings have previously occurred with in a day or two of exposure. The distance and time lag, along with the seeming severity of the injury, point to a non-sonar cause for this stranding. However, it may provide some evidence for a widespread concern that many victims of remote sonar exposure simply do not make it to shore. Source: Winston-Salem Journal/AP, 3/14/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Cites National State Secrets, Refuses Judge's Order for Sonar Records - The US Navy has declared that records of past active sonar training are off-limits in the ongoing court case challenging the environmental protection measures employed during the missions. In considering the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued an order for the Navy to submit data for the case on when and where sailors have used sonar since 2003. Cooper instructed the Navy to list the latitude and longitude of where it used mid-frequency active sonar, how long it used the sonar, and the times and dates. The Navy said in its new release that it refused to comply citing state secrets privilege, which allows government officials to keep information secret on national security grounds. "If you look at it in the aggregate, it paints a picture that we wouldn't want to paint for our adversaries," said a Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was still being litigated. Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, said he would challenge the Navy's position. The council and the court needs the data to ascertain how the Navy has complied with environmental laws when sailors use sonar. Source: Reuters, 3/21/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 3/20/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Active Sonars Granted 2 Year Exemption from MMPA - In response to increasing restrictions imposed on mid-frequency active sonar training missions, including an out-of-court settlement during the summer in Hawaii and recent California Coastal Commission requirements, the Pentagon has taken advantage of its right to exempt the Navy from provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The exemption, an extension of a 6-month version issued last summer in the midst of the Hawaii court battle, will cover a period of two years, during which the Navy will aim to complete several recently initiated Environmental Impact Statements addressing active sonar training in various oceans. The Navy says the exemption will allow it to proceed with 40 separate training missions over the coming two years, during which it will continue to employ monitoring and safety zones to protect marine mammals. Sources: Monterey Herald, 1/24/07 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Advertiser, 1/24/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Two sources from Navy perspective: The Strategy Page, 1/25/07 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Office of Information, 1/26/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Two sources from NRDC perspective: NRDC Press Release, 1/23/07 [READ PRESS RELEASE] All-Headline News, 1/23/07 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy to Revise Atlantic Coast Naval Warfare Training Range DEIS - Two years ago, the Navy published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for an Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) being planned, with potential sites off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, or Florida. After being flooded with comments from the public, state agencies, and federal agencies, the Navy has decided to revise and reissue the Draft EIS, rather than move forward to a final EIS. A new scoping period for the DEIS is now open, through October 22. The new DEIS will be changed to include a fourth possible site, off Charleston, SC. In addtion, the Navy is working with NOAA Fisheries (formerly NMFS) to develop a better way to analyze the behavioral impacts on marine mammals. NOAA had been unusually direct in its critique of the Navy's previous approach, which was based on a simple maximum sound level criterion; over the past couple of years, a "dose response" approach has been developed, which accounts for the impact of lower sound sources occuring over longer perdiods of time. Further, the Navy's previous reliance on hearing and behavioral tests using captive dolphins will be expanded to include assessment of the responses of wild animals. Sources: PilotOnline, 10/1/07 [READ ARTICLE] Delmar Daily Times, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE] Charlotte News-Observer, 9/22/07 [READ ARTICLE]
Earlier coverage: NOAA Objects to Navy Undersea Training Range Draft EIS - In an unusually direct and public rebuke to the Navy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has filed comments on the Navy's proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range which suggest that the Navy has set its allowable levels of noise too high, has underestimated impacts on migrating right whales, and has neglected to consider the likelihood of whale deaths. The comments may highlight growing tensions between the civilian agency in charge of regulating ocean issues, and the Navy's approach to operating its mid-frequency active sonar systems. However, Brandon Southall, a NOAA acoustician, said last week the agency's remarks are part of a bureaucratic process still in its early stages and shouldn't be interpreted as a battle between the governmental agencies. "The hard thing for both sides is that we're operating with not enough information," Southall said, referring to the dearth of research on marine mammals' noise reactions. Meanwhile, it has taken nearly two dozen people an entire week to sort 40,000 pages of public comments on the Navy's plans; many were form letters, though environmental organizations and state agencies submitted detailed comments. Source: The Virginian-Pilot, 2/26/06 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 2/18/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Takes NC State Officials on a Sonar Training Mission
- In an effort to stress the importance of sonar training and to counter local resistance to the proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range, state environmental officials and the press were invited to observe on a mission off the North Carolina coast. During the exercise, one of the three planned sonar emissions was cancelled when a pod of dolphins appeared. Officals noted that where they usually train now, off Jacksonville, Fla., or the Virginia Capes, there is no structured feedback from under water; the proposed network of sensors to be installed on the seafloor of the USWTR is one of its advantages. Response from state officals was mixed. “They’ve got to be able to train like that to know what they’ve got to do,” said Bryan Gillikin, N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission member. “I just would like to feel more comfortable that the concentration of active sonar use will not have significant impacts on our fisheries,” said Louis Daniel of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Jene Nissen, with Fleet Forces Command Accoustics Policy Development, told the group that the Navy knows from public comments it received that it must expand its evaluation of acoustic impacts on fish, and the Navy has commissioned such a study from the University of Maryland that should yield some preliminary findings in a couple of months. Source: Carteret County News-Times/Evaneco.com, 3/17/06 [READ ARTICLE] Sun-Journal, 3/21/06 [READ ARTICLE]
Navy Issues Draft EIS for Offshore Sonar Training Range
- The US Navy has taken the first public step toward the establishment of a 500 square mile training range, 50 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Citing a need for consistent anti-submarine warfare training opportunities, the site, dubbed the Undersea Warfare Training Range, will be host to up to 48 mid-frequency active sonar exercises per year, plus 113 exercises using other, somewhat less intense acoustic sources. Two alternative sites are also assessed in the DEIS, off Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida. Source: The Virginian Post-Pilot, 10/22/05 [READ ARTICLE] The Navy Times, 10/21/05 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Undersea Warfare EIS [DEIS WEBPAGE] Watchstander, Issue 1 (New Navy Newsletter on Sonar issues) [DOWNLOAD NEWSLETTER(pdf)]
Related: List of Naval training grounds (not all sonar-related, but many are noisy! scroll down) [WEBSITE]

Navy Applies for LFAS Permits - The Navy has submitted a request to NMFS for small-takes permits allowing operation of four low-frequency active sonar vessels in several oceans. The permit request is consistent with the ongoing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the Navy. Public comments are being accepted through October 30. [SEE FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE]

Navy Official Says USWTR Draft EIS May Be Revised - The Navy is considering producing a Supplemental Draft EIS to address the many concerns that were raised in comments on the original DEIS, released in early 2006. This would provide an additional step in the process of moving toward a final EIS and decision on the proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range. "We don't want to be a bad neighbor," a Navy spokesman said. The author of a local editorial opined "That may be the most welcome news to come from the Navy since the range was first proposed." Source: News & Observer, 5/8/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Launches Mid-frequency Sonar EIS for Training off East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Hawaii - The US Navy has made it clear that it does not want the stringent measures it agreed to after a court challenge to summer training missions off Hawaii to set a precedent for future permits. In order to establish a clear set of standards (and partially in response to a broader court challenge demanding a NEPA process for mid-frequency sonar), the Navy has announced its intention to develop an EIS to choose locations off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico for mid-frequency sonar training missions, and a similar EIS for training off Hawaii. Public scoping comments are being accepted on the East Coast EIS until December 1, and the Hawaii EIs until October 13. [SEE EAST COAST/GOM EIS NOTICE OF INTENT] [SEE EAST COAST/GOM EIS WEBPAGE] [SEE HAWAII EIS NOTICE OF INTENT] [HAWAII NAVY EIS WEBPAGE] News Sources: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 8/27/06 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 8/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy Times, 8/31/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Wild Week Bans, Then Approves Active Sonar at RIMPAC - The biannual Rim of the Pacific exercises have begun in waters around the Hawaiian Islands, and will continue through July with 19,000 participants from eight nations, along with over 40 ships and 160 aircraft . In a flurry of activity during the preceding week, NOAA issued its Marine Mammal Protection Act permit for the exercises, prompting a consortium of environmental organizations to ask a court for a temporary restraining order to halt the use of active sonar. The Pentagon responded by issuing its first-ever exemption order, allowing the Navy to proceed with all planned activities (RIMPAC and several other exercises) without MMPA permits for six months, while still being subject to NEPA and ESA provisions. On July 3, the restraining order motion was granted, based on a NEPA challenge (that enviromental review was insufficient); the Navy filed to have it tossed out, but then on July 7, the NRDC and Navy agreed on additional mitigation and monitoring measures, and the lawsuits were dropped. The Navy will proceed with the exercises, using active sonar. Environmental attorney Richard Kendall called the settlement "a significant step forward in the protection of our oceans." A Navy admiral characterized it as requiring "a small number of additional mitigation measures." (ed: This exchange affirms the NRDC position, which was that modest "common sense" improvements to the mitigation plan would provide the needed protection for whales.) The Navy had planned, even under the exemption, to abide by the terms of the NOAA permit, which includes more restrictions on active sonar use and more robust monitoring for marine mammals than required previously required. The RIMPAC permit include the use of active sonar in deep offshore waters and in the channels between islands, where the Navy is insistant that it needs training exercises, and where environmentalists are concerned about impacts on marine mammals. The final agreement adds marine mammal spotters to all sonar-equipped ships, mandates aerial monitoring for marine mammals during sonar excercises, and asks all personnel doing acoustic monitoring as part of the exercise to also listen for and report whale sounds. Some of the other additional measures that the NRDC had been advocating were not mandated; these include a larger buffer zone around sonar transmissions and using lower power transmissions at night and in times of limited visibility. During the last RIMPAC exercises, in 2004, a pod of pilot whales appeared in near-shore waters, apparently agitated, not long after sonar use offshore. Sources: (permit) Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 6/23/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 6/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] (lawsuit) AP/MSNBC, 6/29/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release/Common Dreams, 6/28/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] (exemption) Honolulu Advertiser, 7/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 6/30/06 [READ ARTICLE(sub)] Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 7/1/06 [READ ARTICLE] (injunction) San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3/06 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News, 7/4/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release/Common Dreams, 7/3/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] (settlement) LATimes, 7/8/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 7/7/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Investors Business Daily, 7/31/06 (concern about sacrificing readiness for whale safety) [READ ARTICLE]
Previously: Final 2006 RIMPAC Permit Set to be Issued - The US Navy is preparing its operational plan for the July 2006 RIMPAC exercise off the coast of Hawaii. In addition to standard measures such as safety zones, shut-downs if whales come too close, and night-time use of listening for whales, several additional measures are being required by NOAA Fisheries. If marine mammals cannot be fully detected out to the prescribed safety zone, sonar will be powered down as if a marine mammal were present immediately beyond their visual range. During the RIMPAC exercises, with the exception of three closely monitored choke-point exercises, mid-frequency sonar will not be operated in canyon-like areas (possible habitat for beaked whales, the family seemingly most sensitive to noise exposure), in constricted channels, or within certain distances around the islands. Choke-point exercises involve vessels moving through constricted channels, sweeping the area with sonar, similar to operational situations where they would anticipate submarine ambushes. During the choke-point exercises, the Navy will use additional dedicated shipboard marine mammal observers, additional dedicated aerial and vessel-bound observers, and land-based observers; and contract with experienced cetacean researchers to monitor the behavior of marine mammals in the vicinity of the exercises. "Our scientists believe these measures, if fully implemented, will avoid the potential for serious injury or mortality to marine mammals," said Dr. Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director. "These mitigation measures will significantly reduce the number of marine mammals exposed to levels of sound likely to cause a behavioral disruption." NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on its 2005 RIMPAC permit through May 24. Source: ENS, 4/26/06 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Hawaii Sonar Exercise Likely Contributor to July 2004 Whale Incident - In July 2004, during the annual RIMPAC exercises off the Hawaiian island of Kauai, 150 deepwater melon-headed whales suddenly appeared in a shallow bay; one young whale died on shore while the rest were herded back to sea by volunteers. A NOAA Fisheries report on the incident found "no significant weather, natural oceanographic event or known biological factors that would explain the animals' movement into the bay nor the group's continued presence in the bay." While the presence of predators cannot be ruled out, the Naval exercises, including repeated use of mid-frequency active sonar, is the most likely cause. Official sonar training and tracking exercises in the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) warning area did not commence until about an hour after the whales appeared in the bay, and were thus initially ruled out as a possible trigger for the movement into the Bay. However, the six naval surface vessels transiting to the operational area on the day before intermittently transmitted active sonar for about 9 hours total as they approached from the south. "Sound propagation models suggest that sonar transmissions were likely detectable over a large area around Kaua'i for many hours on the day prior to the stranding, as well as within Hanalei Bay when the animals were there," said Brandon Southall, NOAA Fisheries Service's Acoustics Program Director. In response to this finding, NOAA has asked the Navy to make some operational changes during this summer's RIMPAC exercise, scheduled for late June. The Navy has agreed to lower the power of the sonar and to avoid most canyon areas where deep-diving whales may be affected, even at ranges of several kilometers. NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on its 2005 RIMPAC permit through May 24. Sources: Science Daily, NOAA Press Release 4/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 4/28/06 [READ ARTICLE] NOAA Executive Summary of report, 4/28/06 [READ EXECUTIVE SUMMARY]

Sonar-caused Injuries Likely Caused Strandings in Mediterranean; North Carolina Fatalities Do Not Show Similar Impacts, No Clear Cause Found - It's been a mixed month for mid-frequency active sonars. Four beaked whales that stranded off the Almeria coast of southern Spain in late January all showed physiological injuries consistent with past sonar casualties, while 36 whales stranded in January 2005 off North Carolina did not show the physiological damage seen in other sonar incidents. A consistent set of pathologies has been seen in several strandings coincident with high-intensity active sonar exercises over the past several years, and has garnered a new name: "gas and fat embolic syndrome." The Spanish whales showed these signs, including bleeding around the ears and brain, and tissue lesions in their livers and other organs, likely caused by expansion of nitrogen bubbles (most likely during rapid surfacing to escape noise, though perhaps by a direct acoustic triggering of bubble expansion). The UK Navy had conducted a sonar exercise in the area two days prior to the strandings; the UK Ministry of Defense responded by announcing that all sonar-equipped ships will be outfitted with a passive acoustic monitoring system capable of identifying any whales within two kilometers. Unfortunately, past studies, including the most complete analysis of beaked whale strandings (after an incident in the Bahamas in 2000), indicate that injury can occur at larger distances; beaked whales, the family apparently most susceptible to these effects, are also less vocal than most whales, so are difficult to find using listening systems. Meanwhile, the final report on a stranding a year earlier off the North Carolina coast was released by the NMFS. The "atypical" multi-species stranding showed no definitive or consistent signs of the "gas and fat embolic syndrome" pathologies (though two pilot whales had some internal tissue lesions), and some animals showed signs of other illness. However, the near-simultaneous live beaching of whales from several species remains unusual, and no non-acoustic cause of death was clearly identified. The report does not rule out sonar as a cause, but the "smoking gun" found in several other similar incidents is missing. It is possible that a behavioral response (avoiding the noise) was a factor in driving the deep-water whales toward shore (a "surface duct" that could have increased the range of the sound occurred on one day of the sonar training), though they do not appear to have sustained acoustic trauma-induced injury. High winds and ocean conditions could have contributed to the beachings, as well. Sources: Spain/UK incident: The Independent, 3/19/06 [READ ARTICLE] London Times, 3/26/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 3/17/06 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Las Palmas University Unit of Cetacean Research Preliminary pathology statement, 3/17/06 [DOWNLOAD STATEMENT(pdf) North Carolina Report: Reuters, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Executive Summary of NMFS report, 3/30/06 [READ SUMMARY] Full NMFS Report [DOWNLOAD REPORT (pdf)] MS-NBC, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Military.com, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 3/30/06 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, with Q&A on differences and similarities to past strandings, 3/29/06 [READ PRESS RELEASEE]

UK Will Install Listening System on all Active Sonar-equipped Ships - The UK Ministry of Defense has announced plans to install a monitoring system on all ships using active sonar systems, in order to better avoid close encounters with whales. The new monitoring system, devised as part of a £2.5m project by the navy to protect marine mammals, makes use of the ships’ “passive sonar”, which is normally deployed to listen for enemy vessels. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), working with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University, has created a “sonic database” of calls used by 120 marine species as part of the scheme. It will be introduced in 2008. Sounds picked up within a two-mile radius by the passive sonar on warships will be checked against the database. If any calls are heard 30 minutes before active sonar is scheduled, it will be called off. Source: TimesOnline, 3/26/06 [READ ARTICLE]

Navy Revamps LFAS Plans, EIS - In response to court-ordered limitations on training missions using the Low-Frequency Active Sonar system, which has kept the system confined to a remote area of the west Pacific for the past couple of years, the US Navy has released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that paves the way for worldwide deployment. The new EIS attempts to address environmental protection shortcomings in the previous operational standards, and proposes to allow four ships outfitted with LFAS to operate in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. The four alternatives include coastline standoff restrictions of 22 and 46 kilometers (12 and 25 nautical miles), seasonal variations, and additional offshore biologically important areas. Public comments are being accepted through December 27. Source: US Navy LFA EIS Website [WEBSITE]

US Navy Sued Over Mid-Frequency Sonar Operations - A consortium of environmental organizations led by the NRDC has challenged the Navy's use of mid-frequency active sonar. Claiming that relatively simple mitigation measures would protect whales from injury, the suit claims that the Navy’s use of mid-frequency sonar violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. 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. Sources: ENS, 10/19/05 [READ ARTICLE] ENN/Reuters, 10/20/05 [READ ARTICLE] NRDC Press Release, 10/18/05 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Overview of Recent Sonar Beaching Events - A good overview article on concerns about naval mid-frequency active sonars and unusual beaching events. Includes comments from naval and environmental spokespeople. Source: Bremerton Sun, 8/15/05 [READ ARTICLE]

US Opposes International Efforts to Limit Active Sonar Use - Responding to increasing worldwide concern (including reports by the International Whaling Commission and World Conservation Union, as well as initiatives in the European Parliament and UN), the United States affirmed its intention to proceed with mid-frequency and low-frequency sonar deployment. The new position is described as a "consensus" agreement among government agencies, but it touched off a contentious internal debate -- one primarily between military officials who say unrestricted sonar is needed to train sailors and protect ships, and wildlife specialists who believe the sonar may be killing whales and other marine mammals with its loud bursts of sound. An official who participated in the discussion and was told not to discuss it publicly said the debate got "very heated." Although an initial Pentagon and Navy draft was four pages long and itemized, in sometimes harsh terms, the service's views on why international sonar regulations are dangerous, the final draft is more restrained. Source: Washington Post, 2/27/05 [READ ARTICLE]

Britain Deploys First of Six Ships with LFA Sonar - The British Ministry of Defense has deployed its LFA system, Sonar 2087, on the first of six ships scheduled to be outfitted with the sytem. Source: The Scotsman, 12/6/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Study Finds Tissue Damage in Whales Exposed to Sonar - A study reported in current issue of Nature provides the first evidence of the mechanism by which navy sonars may be causing physical damage in beaked whales, leading some to beach and die. Necropsies on whales beached in the Canary Islands show lesions caused by the formation and expansion of bubbles in the tissues of internal organs. Such bubble formation is the cause of "the bends," which human divers experience when they surface too rapidly; it has long been thought that whale physiology protects them from the bends, even on rapid ascents. It is not clear whether the whales are startled into surfacing exceedingly rapidly, or whether the physical force of the sound pressure waves triggers the formation of bubbles in the whale tissue. "This is the best data we've ever seen from a sonar-related stranding," said Roger Gentry, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Acoustics Team. He said NOAA will hold a workshop this year with the authors and others in the field to assess the new information and try to reach scientific conclusions. While the incident being investigated invovled a mid-frequency active sonar system, it will doubtless affect consideration of the newer low-frequency active systems currently being tested by the US and British Navies. Sources: Nature Science News, 10/9/03 (best brief article) [READ ARTICLE] New Scientist, 10/9/03 (very good, details clear) [READ ARTICLE] Los Angelse Times, 10/9/03 (detailed overview, many comments) [READ ARTICLE] Washington Post, 10/9/03 (includes comment from NOAA and Navy) [READ ARTICLE]

Navy, NRDC Agree on Limited LFAS Deployment - In an agreement that should end the ongoing legal battle over deployment of the Navy's Low Frequency Active Sonar, the litigants have agreed on a plan to allow deployment for training purposes in a relatively limited area of the western Pacific Ocean. The area was chosen because of the relative lack of large whale populations; the agreement also specifies seasonal restrictions on sonar use to protect migrating whales. The agreement applies only to peacetime training and testing missions; during wartime, there will be no restrictions. (It is not clear whether the Navy regards the current worldwide "war on terror" to be a window for more widespread deployment; North Korean subs are a particular concern to Pentagon officials). Source: Seattle Times, 10/12/03 [READ ARTICLE]
The Federal Court Ruling on the case is available for download [DOWNLOAD RULING(pdf)]
NRDC has posted its summer 2003 legal brief, used in the final arguments, online [READ BRIEF]
Related: European Parliament Members Call for EU Ban on Active Sonar - Several members of the European Parliament, led by British MEP Carolline Lucas, have delivered to EU headquarters in Brussels a petition with 100,000 signatures and supported by environmental organizations worldwide. They are calling for the EU to ban use of active sonars, due to concerns about the impact of the loud sounds on ocean life.
Update June 04: Navy Files Motion to Vacate Agreement - In the wake of Congressional approval during the 2003 session of new definitions of harassment and small takes of marine mammals, the Navy has filed a motion in federal court seeking to change the terms of the limited LFAS deployment. This case is still wending its way through the court system; they are now awaiting a hearing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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