SAPL eAlert: Speak Up for Whales and Dolphins Before July 24

July 19th, 2007 5:06 pm by Kelly Garbato

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Cathy Liss, Legislative Director – action [at]
Date: Jul 18, 2007 11:34 AM

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July 18, 2007

We need your help to urge the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce to deny permission to the U.S. Navy to use its dangerous Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar systems in the world’s oceans. As you may recall, under a court order and resultant settlement, the Navy is currently only permitted to use this extremely loud active sonar in a limited area of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, the Navy wants to double the number of platforms that use LFA sonar, and to deploy it across vast ocean basins throughout the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. The NMFS is poised to issue a rulemaking that will allow the Navy to use the LFA as it pleases for the next five years. The NMFS proposal can be downloaded at The Navy documents can be downloaded at

Deafening Our Seas and Harming Sea Life

LFA sonar is extremely loud – having a source level of 215 decibels, according to the NMFS and the Navy. This is 10 million times louder than the 145-decibel level that the Navy claims is safe for human divers and 10 billion times louder than the ambient noise levels in the sea at 85 decibels. LFA sonar has a low wavelength and can consequently travel for many hundreds of miles, a property that is used by some whales in their vocalizations to communicate with each other over immense ocean expanses. The uncontrolled, widespread use of low frequency active sonar threatens to change the make-up of our seas forever.

The Navy and the NMFS claim that measures can be taken to reduce the harm on a species level. However, we believe that significant population-level impacts could also occur, and further, that individual animals are as important to be protected from harm and death.

The Navy and the NMFS argue that marine mammals cannot be harmed by noise at received levels of 180 decibels and that marine mammals will be detected by Navy observers before they are exposed to louder levels. We disagree with the assumption that marine mammals cannot be harmed at levels of 180 dB, and with the belief that Navy observation methods are good enough to spot and then react to every single animal, every single time, within range of the moving noise.

Dangerous Noise Levels

Whales have stranded and died at proven received levels of 150-160 decibels. This happened in the infamous Bahamas stranding incident in 2000, when 17 whales died after being exposed to Navy mid-frequency sonar (as the Navy and the NMFS later admitted). The Navy claims that this incident was unique and thus discounts its own findings. Other sonar-related stranding events have occurred throughout the world: Spain (2005), North Carolina (2005), Hawaii (2004), Canary Islands (2004, 2002, 1991, 1989, 1988, 1985), Washington State (2003), Virgin Islands (1999), Madeira (2000), Greece (1996), and Japan (1990, 1989, 1987, 1979, 1978, 1968).

The Navy and the NMFS attribute these incidents to the use of mid-frequency active sonar and state that no LFA sonar-related strandings have occurred. We contend that these incidents are a mere indication of a much larger problem with loud active sonar use, the magnitude of which is currently unknown, and that the precautionary principle should be applied.

Inadequate Mitigations

The proposed observation methods are human observers on deck during daylight hours, backed up with passive acoustic monitoring and high frequency active sonar. Whales are diving animals, with some of the most vulnerable species, beaked whales, spending over an hour at depth. Human observers cannot be relied upon to catch every single marine mammal before he or she is very close to the ship. Passive acoustic monitoring is only adequate when marine mammals vocalize, which many seldom do. High frequency active sonar is yet another human-caused noise source in the ocean and is only adequate for large marine mammals within range.

International Cries for Caution

In recent years, the international community has come to recognize the threat that anthropogenic ocean noise can have on marine life. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, the World Conservation Union, the European Parliament and European Commission and other international fora acknowledge the potential harm that ocean noise can have on the marine environment. The U.N. Secretary General has referred to anthropogenic ocean noise as one of five “current major threats to some populations of whales and other cetaceans,” and also included noise as one of the 10 “main current and foreseeable impacts on marine biodiversity” on the high seas” (1). In thumbing its nose at these calls for caution from international bodies in which it participates, the United States is ostracizing itself from the rest of the world on this issue, while at the same time affecting the oceans across the globe with its military noise.


The NMFS has only provided two weeks for public comment on this controversial proposal. Please voice your opposition to the NMFS proposal and submit your comments by July 24, 2007 to the address below:

P. Michael Payne, Chief
Permits, Conservation and Education Division
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

E-mail: PR1.062306A [at]
Online Via NMFS e-Rulemaking Portal:

(Include I.D. Number: 062206A with your comments.)

Tell the NMFS:

* You object to the extremely short time allowed for public comment on such a controversial and potentially devastating proposal;

* You oppose the NMFS plan to allow the Navy to use LFA sonar across the world’s oceans;

* Loud, human-generated ocean noise has been proven to harm marine mammals, and the harm can range from behavioral disturbance to death;

* Marine mammals have stranded and died at received levels of less than 180 decibels, which contradicts the claim by the NMFS and the Navy that 180 decibels should be used as the threshold for harm;

* The Navy’s mitigation measures are inadequate to prevent harm to all marine mammals and will actually introduce additional noise into the ocean;

* There is mounting evidence that noise impacts can harm fish and squid, who are important prey animals for marine mammals;

* You object to the U.S. government’s reckless, irresponsible determination to threaten all sea life through LFA sonar at a time when the international community is calling for caution with regard to the proliferation of anthropogenic ocean noise.

Please share our “Dear Humanitarian” eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to contact the NMFS too. As always, thank you very much for your help!

Cathy Liss
Legislative Director

Sign up for SAPL eAlerts to receive the latest legislative news on what you can do to help us protect all animals.

(1) Report of the Secretary General, Oceans and the Law of the Sea, 159 (A/60/63/Add.1) (July 15 2005).

Society for Animal Protective Legislation | PO Box 3719 | Washington | DC | 20027



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