Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Naval Sonar: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy.
There is nothing good in war.
Except its ending.

-- Abraham Lincoln

A Navy project left over from the Cold War designed to detect enemy submarines has the potential to deafen every marine mammal on Earth. Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar is an experimental sonar system that the Navy is now deploying throughout 80 percent of the world’s oceans.

Many marine mammals and other sea life are dependent on their sensitive hearing to find food, navigate, and communicate with their mates and young. LFA has the potential to cause irreparable harm to thousands of intelligent sea creatures.


U.S. Navy diver is exposed to the sounds emitted by the Low Frequency Active Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (LFA SURTASSS) (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
Fish populations, human divers, and military personnel are also threatened by this sonar. Unfortunately, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency charged with protecting ocean mammals, has cleared the way for deployment of the Navy sound blasting.

In March 2000, 16 whales stranded themselves in the Bahamas. Fourteen were rare beaked whales, two were minke whales. During the 25 hour period, a dolphin also stranded itself. While the dolphin and six of the whales died, 10 of the whales were successfully returned to the sea.

The strandings and deaths occurred while a five vessel Navy fleet was conducting tests in the area with a midrange-frequency sonar.

The U.S. Navy sonar system tows an underwater speaker array that sends loud noises through the sea in an attempt to pick up echoes that bounce off enemy submarines.

The Navy denied any connection between its mid-range sonar and the marine mammal strandings for nearly two years, but after civilian and military scientists irrefutably tied the incident to sonar testing, Navy officials finally admitted last December that the sonar testing was responsible for the deaths.

Other suspicious strandings and deaths of whales and have occurred in areas where Navy sonar has been tested around the world.

The Navy's Low Frequency Active sonar will produce one of the loudest undersea sounds ever created by humans. The Navy claims that the LFA sonar will have no adverse effects on whales or other marine life, yet their own document about the March 2000 strandings says, “While the precise causal mechanisms of tissue damage [in the dead marine mammals] are unknown, available evidence points to acoustic or impulse trauma.”


Pacific white-sided dolphins are among the marine mammals that could be affected by the low frequency active sonar. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Of the four beached whale specimens collected for study from the Bahamas strandings, three showed severe tissue damage and bleeding in the inner ear. The fourth showed bleeding around the brain.

The sounds generated by the newly deployed LFA sonar have been compared to what would be heard if you stood next to a launch of the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the Moon.

Critics of the new sonar claim that it not only threatens sensitive marine life such as whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, sea turtles, and fish, but it is a threat to humans as well.

Critics also claim that it simply won't work to protect any U.S. vessel, since its loud sounds will act as a beacon for any lurking "enemy." The LFA sonar will also reveal friendly Navy submarines to any opponent.

Many feel that the Navy is ignoring sophisticated computer enhanced listening devices that could be used as a substitute. The Earth Island Institute says, “In a world of cruise missiles with pinpoint accuracy and ‘smart’ torpedoes, not to mention low-tech terrorism, LFA Sonar is an obsolete relic of the Cold War.”

Critics believe that whales and other sensitive marine life would be deafened by LFA sonar and left in severe pain from massive internal injuries. They would be condemned to a horrible death on the beaches where they instinctually seek sanctuary.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says, “According to the Navy's own studies, the LFA system generates sounds capable of reaching 140 decibels more than 300 miles away. Scientists claim that, during testing off the California coast, noise from a single LFA system was detected across the breadth of the North Pacific Ocean.”

It is unthinkable that such a destructive program is being implemented, particularly in light of a recently released study that says most of the Earth’s ecosystems are challenged in some way.


Humpbacks feeding on krill. Whales use their sensitive acoustic abilities to find food. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The report, “The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems: Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the United States,” was commissioned five years ago by President Bill Clinton and was released this week by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. Its conclusions are disturbing. The United States may have no streams left that are free from chemical contamination. Also, one-fifth of the nation’s animal species and one-sixth of the plants are at risk of extinction.

Members of President George W. Bush’s administration cannot be allowed to promote projects such as the LFA in their zeal to create a state of war with the world that will last throughout this century, as recently outlined in the recently published "National Security Strategy of the United States." It foretells a chilling future – or possibly no future at all.

“The Nation” magazine, in its September 25 “Open Letter to Congress,” says the President’s report “declares a policy of military supremacy over the entire earth - an objective never before attained by any power. Military programs are meanwhile forbidden to other countries, all of whom are to be prevented from ‘surpassing or equaling’ the United States."

"The new policy reverses a long American tradition of contempt for unprovoked attacks," the letter says. "It gives the United States the unrestricted right to attack nations even when it has not been attacked by them and is not about to be attacked by them.”

The Bush national security manifesto declares, in essence, war on the planet’s ecosystems, plants, and animals, as well as its people. If war becomes an accepted state of being for the U.S., then projects like the LFA will be commonplace, fueling an obscene military-industrial complex that was faltering after years of waste and abuse.

If our oceans and forests become dead zones, what will we be fighting for?


1. Take action on this issue with the help of the Earth Island Institute at: http://www.earthisland.org/takeaction/new_action.cfm?aaID=45

2. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they stop this wasteful, useless, and deadly project. Tell them that LFA poses a serious threat to marine life. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

3. See a factsheet about how loud the LFA sonar would be at: http://www.earthisland.org/immp/eii_sonar_factsheet.pdf

4. See a chart comparing the sound levels of a number of events to the LFA sonar at: http://www.earthisland.org/immp/eii_sonar_chart.pdf

5. Read more about the issue from the Humane Society of the United States at: http://www.hsus.org/ace/14733

6. Learn about the release of the Heinz Center report at: http://www.heinzctr.org/env_press.htm. See the full report.

7. See “The Nation’s” Open Letter to Congress at: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021014&s=editors

8. See the U.S. Navy's LFA website at: http://www.surtass-lfa-eis.com/

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html or your local bookstore. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at: http://www.healingourworld.com}