Frequently Asked Questions About Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS)

What is the Navy doing now that their LFAS testing period is completed

The Navy published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in late July 1999. The public comment period on the DEIS closed on October 28, 1999. The Navy is required, by law, to incorporate the questions and answers raised by the public in the Final EIS when published at a future date.

On August 12, 1999, just two weeks after the release of the DEIS to the public, the Navy applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a Letter of Authorizaion (LOA) concerning LFAS operations. This LOA is a permit to harass marine mammals while operating LFAS worldwide for a period of time, not to exceed 5 years, beginning in FY2000 (October 1999).

Since the public had an opportunity to comment on the Navy’s DEIS, did the public have an opportunity to comment on the Navy’s requested LOA to harass marine mammals?

Yes, the public had an opportunity to provide written comments about the Navy’s LOA request to the NMFS. Letters had to be postmarked no later than November 22, 1999 and sent to: Donna Weiting, Chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.

What is the decibel level the Navy has asked permission to use in their LOA request to NMFS?

The NMFS announcement of the Navy’s LOA request states that a 180 dB sound field will extend 2 kilometers from the ship. This means that the source level from the ship will be 246 dB.

What is the difference in impact on marine life when LFAS is used at 203 dB which was the highest level in the Hawaii tests as compared to 246 dB which is the level the Navy intends to use the system at in normal operations?

As you can imagine 246 does not equal 203. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, higher dB values reflect much higher sound pressure levels. Therefore, a decibel level of 246 represents 20,000 times more acoustic intensity than 203 dB.

No one knows the impact to marine life at 246 dB. If at much lower dB levels we see:

  • abandoned calves
  • whales leaving the test area
  • 80% of whales tested, stopping their songs
  • and a mass stranding of beaked whales in the Mediterrean Sea

We can’t imagine what would happen at 246 dB, except to know that the LFAS will put marine life at risk in all the oceans of the world.

The Nature March 1998 article stated that, “The adverse effects of low frequency sound on whales are poorly studied. But, many scientists warn that at high levels as occurs with the LFA sonar, they (the results) could be dramatic.”

What are major environmental groups and respected scientists saying about the Navy’s DEIS and their LOA request to harass marine mammals with LFAS?

Several scientists and environmental groups have pointed out numerous discrepancies in the Navy’s DEIS and their LOA request. They also believe the DEIS provides insufficient data for LFAS to be used safely. The Navy has chosen to test the LFAS at levels much lower than they intend to deploy it at in the oceans worldwide. Therefore, we do not know the true impact on ocean life and neither does the Navy.

Each one of these environmental groups and scientists has spent a great deal of time and effort to understand and communicate their concerns on this very confusing and complex issue. We recommend that you take the time to read their comments. Please see our “Links To More Info” page.

What does the Marine Mammal Commission say about the effects of LFAS on marine life?

The Marine Mammal Commission, (a federal agency created to help protect marine mammals), expressed grave concerns in their 1997 annual report to Congress about the effects of the sonar on whales and other marine life. Specifically their report states:

“If the LFA system were made available for worldwide use as proposed, all species and populations of marine mammals including those listed as endangered and threatened under the Endangered Species Act possibly could be affected.”

The report continues to explain that the possible effects on marine mammals could include:

  • death from trauma
  • hearing loss
  • disruption of feeding, nursing, sensing and communication
  • abandonment of traditional feeding and breeding habitants
  • stress (making animals more vulnerable to disease and predation)
  • changes in distribution and abundance of important marine mammal prey species
  • subsequent decreases in marine mammal survival and productivity

When is the Final EIS (FEIS) due out?The FEIS was published in late January 2001. It is an extremely long document and basically says nothing different from the DEIS.

What has the Navy done since the FEIS was published?They have applied to NMFS for a permit and a LOA to deploy LFAS. Both of these are required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

What has NMFS done since the FEIS was published?They have accepted written comments from the public and held three public hearings between April 26 and May 3, 2001.

What is the opinion of our congressional leaders about the LFAS testing and the impact it is having on our marine life?

As of this date, Congress, as a whole, has made no official comment on these tests.

Part of the problem for our elected representatives is that they have not been told the truth. Many of you have written your representatives with your concerns, asking them to find out what is going on. In turn the representatives write to the Navy asking for specifics. The Navy, however, has consistently responded to congressional representatives with inaccurate and misleading statements. Please see our “Misinformation” page for specific examples.

OMI has made it a priority to point out the U.S. Navy’s inaccurate statements about LFAS and provide congressional representatives with the truth.

If whales have been on this planet for 50 million years, obviously they have learned to adapt to survive. Why should we not assume that they would adapt to the LFA sonar?

To answer this question I would like to quote Farley Mowat, from his book, A Whale for the Killing,

“Here is as good a place as any to reply to a question I have sometimes been asked. Why is it that, if whales have such large and developed brains, they have not been able to avoid destruction at man’s hands? The answer seems obvious. The whales never dabbled in the arcane arts of technology and so had no defense against that most deadly plague. In time they might have evolved a defense, but we gave them no time. The answer raises a counter question: Why is it, if man has such a remarkable intelligence, he has been unable to avoid an almost continuous acceleration of the process of self-destruction? Why, if he is the most advanced of beings, has he become a threat to the survival of all life on earth?”

If I do not want the U.S. Navy to expose marine life or humans to the LFAS what can I do?

Let your voice be heard. Every one of us has a voice, and when we as a group make our concerns heard, we could be more powerful than any organization or government. Go to our “Actions You Can Take” page for specific steps to take.

DEIS – Draft Environmental Impact Statement
FEIS – Final Environmental Impact Statement
LFA or LFAS – Low Frequency Active Sonar
LOA – Letter of Authorization
NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NMFS – National Marine Fisheries Service
NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
OMI – Ocean Mammal Institute

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