My name is Dick Russell, and I am a journalist who has specialized in writing about ocean-related issues for nearly twenty years. In the course of researching my latest book, “Eye of the Whale,” which will be published in August by Simon & Schuster, I interviewed a number of scientific experts on acoustics and marine mammals and, in particular, the impact of Navy sonar upon whales. I came away deeply concerned about what I learned.
Even the least cautious of the marine scientists I spoke with was of the opinion that much more needs to be known before LFA is allowed to be implemented, if at all. Dr. Peter Tyack, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, was one of the marine biologists contracted by the Navy to conduct its experiments to see how near-shore whales would react to high decibel levels of LFA sound. Dr. Tyack told me he is most concerned about deep-ocean, deep-diving toothed whales, such as the sperm and beaked whales, in area where sound refracts downward and the animals could face jeopardy when foraging in the depths where the LFA energy concentrated.
The sound tests he conducted in the presence of gray whales, which always stay near the coastline as they migrate, determined conclusively that LFA sonar disturbed these whales and should be kept away from such inshore areas. The Navy’s supposed compromise was to limit operation of its system to at least twelve miles from shore. But as another researcher into whale acoustics – Dr. Lindy Weilgart of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia – said to me, “if inshore whales are clearly shown to avoid LFAs, then the problem may not be using LFA just in that particular environment but everywhere. Perhaps the offshore migrating whales – those that reacted less – were already more damaged or marginal individuals. Anything that has the potential to change, even slightly, a whole population of migrating whales should be viewed with great caution. If something serious befalls these migrating animals, it means that the whole population is doomed.”
Can we put at risk the whales, dolphins and other marine life which could be impacted across 80 percent of the world’s oceans, flooding thousands of square miles of ocean at a time with intense sound for the sake of a submarine detection system whose very capability is already in doubt? This is not only a waste of taxpayer’s money – it could have far greater consequences of creating a wasteland of our seas!
I strongly urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to follow through on its mandate under the Marine Mammal Protection Act – and outlaw any further deployment of LFA sonar.