Environmental Groups
Challenge Navy
Sonar Deployment
By Lanny Sinkin
A group of national and Hawaii-based environmental and cultural organizations filed suit in Honolulu federal court challenging the U.S. Navy plan to deploy a new sonar system.
The sonar system uses loud, low frequency broadcasts to locate submarines. The suit alleges that low frequency active sonar (LFAS) is a threat to numerous marine species, including endangered whales.
Among the threats posed by the sonar to marine mammals, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission identified "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."
The suit charges that the Navy is illegally spending hundreds of millions of dollars preparing to deploy this system before completing an evaluation of the environmental impacts.
The suit also charges that the Navy is conducting their environmental analysis in a biased manner, designed to justify the past illegal expenditures.
The National Environmental Policy Act specifically prohibits "irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources" before an environmental impact statement (EIS) is prepared.
The Navy has spent more than $350 million on the LFAS system, known as SURTASS LFA, yet the EIS remains incomplete.
Fabrication of low frequency active sonar transmitters, construction of ships to carry the sonar, writing software to operate the sonar system, and many other expenditures have created a tremendous momentum to deploy the system, no matter what the environmental impacts.
The suit alleges that the Navy's draft EIS is a biased document designed to justify deployment, rather than an objective study of the potential impacts on the marine environment.
For example, the draft EIS makes no mention of evidence which emerged during the testing of the sonar that broadcasts are dangerous to whales and people.
During March 1998 sonar testing in Hawaii, numerous whale watch boat captains reported whales leaving the area in or near the testing location. The broadcasts apparently causing the whales to leave took place at levels far below the levels planned during deployment of the system.
A swimmer in the water during a broadcast emerged with symptoms her doctor described as those of a trauma patient. The scientists conducting the tests admitted the swimmer received an exposure of only 125 decibels, millions of times less than the planned operational level of the sonar.
A legal challenge to the testing led to this evidence and much more being presented to a federal judge during the testing. The Navy stopped the tests and left Hawaiian waters, so the judge declared the case moot before the evidence could be heard.
The Navy knew of the evidence that their system threatened whales and humans. Yet the draft EIS omits any discussion of this evidence.
The immense expenditures to date and the omission of critical evidence strongly suggest that the Navy is preparing the EIS merely as a technical exercise. The suit requests the court to acknowledge that fact and place the entire EIS process under judicial scrutiny until the EIS is finished and judged adequate by the court.
The plaintiffs in the suit are the 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 Trust; and Whale Rescue Team.
For further information about the law suit and the LFAS technology, you can visit or
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The text is 578 words.
The author is an attorney in Hilo, Hawai`i, who represents the organizations and individuals filing suit.
Lanny Sinkin P. O. Box 944 Hilo, Hawai`i 96720
(808) 961-9100
For additional information regarding the threat posed by LFAS, visit the sites below:
the Stop LFAS web site the Ocean Mammal Institute web site the Natural Resources Defense Council web site.


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