Navy Launches Major
LFAS PR Campaign
By Cheryl A. Magill <>
"All's Whale that Ends Whale!"
The Navy has successfully launched a campaign of reassurance. This extensive PR campaign has repeatedly stated the US Navy is committed to working with experts in the field of marine mammals. The Navy further claims to have consulted with federal and state agencies. This observer believes that the Navy has done so recently in an effort to comply with laws, which they'd ignored previously. Much of the interactive effort we now see being demonstrated came after being forced by the NRDC to produce an Environmental Impact Statement. The Navy was sited for their work with LFAS (Low Frequency Active Sonar) in a marine sanctuary, where their "researchers" were experimenting on protected humpback whales during the 1998 annual migration. The US Navy also claims to be working with environmental groups having interest in marine environmental protection. From what I've observed, the Navy eventually responded to accusations that they were in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act when in March of 1998 they "tested" for signs of pain or discomfort demonstrated by animals known for their acoustic sensitivity. The Navy is now doing, after the fact, what is required by law under NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act). How well they are meeting that requirement or whether or not there is full compliance is a contested point, as there seem to be several convenient omissions in the documentation they've produced. The Environmental Impact Statement was manufactured as an after-thought and represents a back-asswards approach to compliance.
The Navy's campaign of reassurances states that it is trying to ensure effective and environmentally safe use of this "important national defense tool." Why LFA Sonar is considered important has not been sufficiently justified. The Russian fleet of submarines has been dismantled through a US Taxpayer cost of over 2.3 billion dollars. The Navy counters this fact by saying that Third World Countries are creating quieter submarines. This invites further speculation as to how our expenses are justified by the unlikely possibility that this one advancement requires the acoustic illumination of an entire oceanscape without consideration of alternative means.
This particular sound-producing tool does not dissipate with the same readiness that a sound like an explosion would. Or, say if you had a rock band blasting its speakers underwater.... Even if the music was initially louder than the LFAS system; the power of music would dissipate quickly. If you look at the overall area of influence, LFAS may be the most powerful man-made sound introduced to the oceans. That's an opinion open for interpretation. But even the loudest "kaboom" is barely discernable once you move away from its source. However, from the literature I've seen, the active clear tone utilized in these low frequencies makes this sonar efficiently operational 100 miles from source to target. How many hundreds of miles a whale might be able to perceive the sound is completely unknown.
It's a beam. It's an acoustic beam. (We humans tend to describe even acoustic references in visual terms. However, to marine life the acoustics are the prime descriptive means of their world in that by this means they can navigate and both seek and avoid prey.) LFAS acoustic arrays consist of 18 underwater speakers. Observers in Hawaii described the speakers as being the size of Volkswagens. The sound gets focused through a timing sequence. It can shift from near to far with precision. The Navy has described this as a defensive weapon but why it could not be used as an offensive weapon has not been explained.
NATO tested this technology in 1996. Twelve Cuvier Beaked Whales died instantaneously. Other whale deaths also occurred but were not so directly and obviously related. An article appeared in NATURE magazine in March of 1998 describing a researcher's findings. This caused a NATO review panel to convene and to assert (after many months of hemming and hawing) that insufficient information is known as to just what the impact of this technology might be on various species of marine life. Anyway, initial news about the NATURE magazine article came out at the same time that the US Navy was testing this technology off the Coast of Hawaii.
The atmosphere in Hawaii became litigious. Organizations, businesses and individuals filed suit against the Navy. The House of Representatives in Hawaii voted unanimously to have the Navy stop their LFAS testing. (Hawaii later offered a joint resolution, which urged the Congress of the United States to stop all further testing of LFAS in Hawaiian waters.)
Furthermore, a sudden absence of would-be test subjects created a problematic situation for the Navy. Where had all the humpbacks gone? (Didn't Bob Dylan write those lyrics?)
"Tests" were discontinued. The Navy never once called them warfare experiments. But it was littoral warfare equipment they were testing. These were termed "playback experiments." This was experimentation that was potentially damaging conducted on a protected species. Oh, and by the way... the efforts to observe this so-called "scientific research" involved questionable techniques, which are challenged by those volunteers who made observations at the same time. Breachings, separated calves and dissipated migration patterns - all these behaviors were seen by observers other than the Navy. "Anecdotal" reports by ships captains were dismissed by the Navy. Also, humans in the water became ill. This upset people who demanded to see an EIS. But there wasn't one. The Navy just plain out didn't have one. A year and a half later, after being forced to do so, the Navy has presented their EIS. It is a global impact statement.
Now the US Navy has asked for a response to this statement within the next 30 days. (The report was released on July 30th.)
In a recent letter I received from the Navy, the situation was described as follows:
"As required by Executive Order 12114, Overseas Environmental Assessments were prepared for the scientific research. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a permit for the scientific research. Previous legal challenges in Hawaiian courts have confirmed that the requirements of applicable environmental law were met in all cases. Extensive protective and mitigation operational protocols are proposed in the DEIS for employment of SURTASS LFA to ensure that marine mammals, as well as humans, will not be exposed to harmful levels of sound."
The timing of the executive order is not referenced. From what I understand, the permit was issued without sufficient disclosure about the secret sonar. All that was known about the technology being deployed was hinged on the concept that this activity was for marine mammal "research." I suspect that the permit application process did not invite full disclosure that there would be potential weapons testing conducted on an endangered species. Too, I would suppose that the application for the permit failed to disclose that its environmental impact had not been studied or approved and that this same technology was suspected in multiple whale deaths two years prior in the Mediterranean. Elsewise, what would have been the likelihood of a permit being issued? To say you have a permit which does not provide an accurate disclosure as to the nature of an activity means to me that a necessary process was circumvented. Is it the intent of the permit process to allow for this dangerous activity being directed at a protected species in a marine sanctuary?
In further response to the Navy's assertions; whether or not those "previous legal challenges in Hawaiian courts" are yesterday's news or if they would appear to be ongoing remains unclear to me. I have read information from an attorney there, Mr. Lanny Sinkin, who states, in a letter to Joe Johnson:
" As you know, the suits were dismissed as moot because the Navy stopped testing. The courts never reached the merits of the injunctive actions."
Mr. Sinkin's letter is available on the Internet. His "First Comments on the DEIS" calls for withdrawal stating flat-out that information was ignored in preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement.
Easy reading on the Internet would be found in a recent CNN Series of Articles published just prior to the release of the DEIS. The Navy also has an Internet site devoted to the SURTASS LFA Sonar DEIS. On it they post the time and place of events such as Open Houses and Hearings. So far we've tried to respond to such postings in as short a time frame as a few days, certainly less than a week. Some events have had more lead-time. Apparently, the Discovery Channel endorses this controversial warfare technology as the Navy continues to play their video.
Please know that you are welcome to learn more about LFAS at my Internet Site. I have over 300 links there to sites which are related to LFA Sonar.
Thank you.
Best regards,
Cheryl A. Magill