In March, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a rule allowing the U.S. Navy to deploy a controversial new sonar system, known as “Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar” (or LFA, for short).
What is it? LFA has been in development by the Navy for years. It uses vessels to tow sonar arrays that shoot low frequency sound waves through the water and reads the returning echoes to find submarines. The Navy contends that the system fills a need for improved detection and tracking of new-generation subs at a longer range and that SURTASS LFA should be deployed in the interests of national security. With proper safeguards in place, the Navy claims the system will have a negligible impact on marine life.
- This is one of the loudest man-made sound sources ever deployed, operating at levels millions of times more intense than is considered safe for human divers and literally billions of times more intense than the level known to disturb large whales. It’s a system so powerful that a single sound source can flood hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean at a time with intense sound.
- Whales and other marine mammals are especially vulnerable to such noise pollution, because they rely on hearing as much as we rely on our sight. Already, it’s been confirmed that sixteen whales and a dolphin that beached themselves in the Bahamas in the spring of 2000 had hemorrhaging around the brain and ear bones caused by mid-range Navy sonar in the vicinity.
- Adding sonar to the other industrial sources of noise in the ocean – from supertankers to giant air guns used in oil exploration – is madness. Entire species and the very integrity of our oceans is at stake!