Sonar Issue Heads
for Federal Court Showdown
WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - A long awaited courtroom
will begin June 30 to determine whether the U.S. Navy can deploy
Frequency Active sonar system, a new technology that scientists
blasts ocean habitat with noise so intense it can maim, deafen and
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is taking the Bush
administration to court over the sonar system. Last year the
Marine Fisheries Service issued the Navy a permit to deploy the
Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) Low
Frequency sonar over 75 percent of the world's oceans.
The NRDC says deployment of the sonar will harass or injure up to
12 percent of every single marine mammal species. Whales, dolphins
and seals have
been using sonar for thousands of years for communication purposes
echolocation. Echolocation works by the animals sending sonar
find their favorite prey species.
The U.S. Navy says the low frequency sonar booms are necessary to
protect American ships and coastlines. Submarines are hard to
detect, and the benefits include the ability to locate enemy
submarines before they are able to launch any sort of attack.
Low Frequency Active sonar sends waves of low frequency sound or
the ocean waters. If these pings intersect an enemy submarine,
they will rebound back to the source ship. The ship that carries
the sonar system will also have a towed passive sonar system to
detect rebounding signals from submarines.
Since sound travels extremely well in water, these pings at the
sound level of 235 decibels will travel across entire ocean basins.
They are louder than the noise made by a jet takeoff which
measures 150 decibels at 25 meters distance, enough to rupture a
human eardrum. According to U.S. Navy documents, marine mammals
will suffer harm when subjected to a sound louder than 180
Conservationists and some scientists are warning that LFA sonar
the very survival of entire populations of whales. At close range,
the system's shock waves are so intense they can destroy a whale's
eardrums, cause its lungs to hemorrhage, and even cause death.
Two years ago, testing of a lower intensity Navy sonar in a
mid-frequency range caused a mass stranding of whales in the
Bahamas. Whales from three different species died, their inner
ears bleeding from the explosive power of the sonar signal.
Last month, a group of biologists off the coast of Washington
state witnessed a "stampede" of distressed marine
mammals as a U.S. destroyer operating a powerful mid-frequency
sonar system passed. Over the next several days, 10 porpoises were
discovered stranded on nearby beaches.
The NRDC went to court on this issue last fall, and a federal
judge blocked global deployment of the SURTASS sonar system until
a full trial could be held.
"Just why is this LFA system being deployed? It is only
useful in nuclear submarine warfare," said Paul Watson,
founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and an early
member of Greenpeace.
"The Soviets are not a threat anymore," Watson said.
"Terrorists do not deploy submarines. None of the so-called
axis of evil nations have submarines. This is simply one of those
pork barrel, waste the taxpayers money schemes, but this time with
the potential for serious global destruction to the world's whales
Ocean Defense International