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US Navy planning to resume LFA tests

Wed, 15 Mar 2000

Hawai`i County Green Party Challenges Navy Plan to Resume Testing Low Frequency Active Sonar System - Call for Congressional Action

*** Legal Challenge to Further Testing ***

According to an email received by Dr. Marsha Green of the Ocean Mammal Institute, from Dr. Robert Gisiner, Office of Naval Research; the United States Navy is now planning to conduct further tests of the Low Frequency Active Sonar System known as SURTASS LFA. The correspondence between Dr. Green and Dr. Gisiner is posted at

These tests will probably target Sperm Whales in the Azores as the primary species. A search may be made for the very elusive Beaked Whales in the Azores or Dominica. The Navy may return to Hawai`i for further testing on Humpback Whales.

If the Navy returns to Hawai`i to follow up on the 1998 tests on Humpback Whales, Dr. Gisiner's email states that the Navy would like to achieve received levels (the intensity received by the whale) of 160 to 180 decibels (dB). In the 1998 tests off Hawai`i, very few whales received levels reaching 140 dB. The proposed new levels would therefore be 10,000 times more intense than the levels which causes whales to leave the 1998 testing area. The 1998 testing area also happens to be a favorite breeding and calving area for the Humpbacks.

Note: the decibel scale is logarithmic:

150 dB is 10x as intense as 140 dB
160dB is 100x as intense as 140dB.)

These levels would also be from 5,000 to 500,000 times more intense than the 125 dB exposure which traumatized a swimmer in the water in 1998.

On February 29, environmental and cultural organizations joined an elected official in filing a suit challenging the Navy's preparations to deploy this system in 80% of the world's oceans. A press release explaining that lawsuit is included below.

This new information radically changes the Navy position in 1998. At that time, various suits were filed challenging the testing. The Navy stopped testing and went to the courts to state that they did not intend to conduct any more tests and that the research was complete. Based on those representations, the courts dismissed the cases as moot.

Given the new plan to conduct further tests, the Hawai`i County Green Party is returning to the judge in the 1998 case and asking that case be reopened and consolidated with the case filed this year, which is before the same judge. The Green Party will seek an injunction preventing any further testing.


The Surveillance Towed Array Sonar System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar is an extraordinarily powerful system the Navy seeks to deploy in 80% of the world's oceans. One observation about the potential effects of this system on marine mammals, such as whales, comes from the United States Marine Mammal Commission:

U.S. Marine Mammal Commission - Annual Report for 1997

Page 169 - Low Frequency Active Sonar

"the possible effects could include:

"death from lung hemorrhage or other tissue trauma;

"temporary or permanent hearing loss or impairment;

"disruption of feeding, breeding, nursing, acoustic communication and sensing, or other vital behavior and, if the disruption is severe, frequent, or long lasting, possible decreases in individual survival and productivity and corresponding decreases in population size and productivity;

"annoyance and subsequent abandonment or avoidance of traditional feeding, breeding, or other biologically important habitats and, if suitable alternative habitats are not available nearby, decreases in both individual survival and productivity and in population size and productivity;

"psychological and physiological stress, making animals more vulnerable to disease, parasites, predation; and

"changes in the distribution abundance, or productivity of important marine mammal prey species and subsequent decreases in both individual marine mammal survival and productivity and in population size and productivity."



On Tuesday, February 29, ten national and Hawaiian organizations and an elected official filed suit in a Honolulu federal court to halt the US Navy's preparations to deploy a low frequency active sonar system, known as LFAS.

The suit alleges that the Navy is violating environmental laws by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the sonar system before completing the analysis of the system's environmental effects.

The suit also alleges that the Navy is conducting a biased environmental study designed to justify the expenditures already made, rather than objectively evaluate the potential for harm to whales and other marine life.

The plaintiffs claim that the sonar system poses a threat to marine life, including whales, and to human swimmers and divers.

The suit seeks an injunction to stop the Navy from making any further "irreversible or irretrievable commitments" to deployment of the sonar, until the environmental impact statement is complete and the federal court finds the statement to be adequate.

The suit also seeks an injunction to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from processing a Navy application for a deployment permit until the Navy is in compliance with environmental laws.

Increased concern about the safety of the low frequency sonar system emerged during testing off the Island of Hawai`i in March 1998. Whale watch captains reported the Humpback Whales to be leaving the testing area. A snorkeler in the water during a broadcast, emerged with symptoms a doctor described as similar to a trauma patient in a hospital. Four law suits, which sought to stop the testing, were declared moot by the courts when the Navy ended the testing and left Hawai`i.

The new law suit alleges that the draft environmental impact statement deliberately omitted all of the evidence presented by those filing the suits during the Hawaiian testing.

The plaintiffs filing the suit are:

Hawai`i County Green Party, Julie Jacobson, a member of the Hawaii County Council, Ocean Mammal Institute, Animal Welfare Institute, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Stop LFAS Worldwide Network, Silent Oceans Trust, Inc., Kohanaiki `Ohana, Universal Cetacean Institute, Orca Quest, Whale Rescue Team.

For further information about the law suit and the SURTASS LFA threat, visit or

*** What you can do about this ***

NOTE : this section contains suggestions for people in the US to write to their congresspeople, if you are reading this in Aotearoa / NZ and would like to communicate your dismay to the US government, you should write the US ambassador Ms Carol Mosley-Braun, US Embassy, PO Box 1190, Wellington; tel (04) 472 2068; fax (04) 471 2380 or 472 9804. You could send a copy of your letter to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, 722 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510, USA.

*** Need for Congressional Action ***

The time has come for Congress to step up to its responsibilities to exercise oversight over the United States Navy. Please communicate today to your Senators and Representative. The basic message which you are urged to put into your own words and speak from your own heart is:

The US Navy is preparing to deploy a low frequency active sonar system that seriously threatens the marine environment, including endangered whales and other species. The Navy illegally spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this system, despite never completing the environmental impact statement. The momentum of these illegal expenditures is causing the Navy to ignore credible evidence that this system is too dangerous to deploy. The time has come for Congress to exercise oversight by asking the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct an audit of the entire SURTASS LFA program and to hold hearings in the appropriate committees into the conduct of the Navy in this manner.

Ask your congressional representatives to either request a GAO audit and to communicate with the appropriate committee responsible for this program to urge that committee to request a GAO audit.

Also ask your congressional representative to call for a moratorium on any further testing of this system until the litigation now pending in Honolulu is decided.

If you do send a letter to your congressional delegation and are not in Hawai`i, please send a copy of your letter to:

Senator Daniel K. Inouye
722 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Inouye is a ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on Defense and a member of the subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries. He has been asked to request a GAO audit.

If you are moved to take further action, please communicate your views to:

Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20350-1000
Telephone: (703) 695-3131
Fax: (703) 614-3477

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