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AEI Summary of Navy EIS for Undersea Warfare Training Range

Science, Sonar 2 Comments »

In October, 2005, the Navy released the first of their sonar-inclusive EIS’s, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement covering plans for a 500 square mile Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR), primarily for up to 480 anti-submarine mid-frequency active sonar exercises per year, including 100 ship-based events (2/week on average, lasting 3-4 hours each). This may serve to concentrate sonar training (i.e., less sonar training on other Navy ranges, since the USWTR will have installed instruments that improve assessment of the trainings and monitor for marine life), though planning continues for sonar training in all Navy ranges. The Navy considered USWTR sites off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Florida, and in June 2009, released a final EIS, proposing an area off Jacksonville as the site of the USWTR.

This site has raised some concerns from environmentalists and the State of Florida, as it lies offshore from critical habitat used by the Northern right whale as winter calving grounds; less than 400 whales remain and the health of every individual is important to population recovery.  The critical habitat extends to 15-20 miles from shore, with the USWTR beginning 50 miles from shore. The EIS includes several measures meant to minimize impacts on right whales; these protection measures mostly involve slowing ships and posting extra lookouts to avoid ship strikes. The Navy continues to refine its impacts modeling, incorporating new research including studies of population distribution and the effects of noise.  The bottom line for now is that the Navy expects that 100,000 dolphins and  over 2000 other whales will hear and change some behavior in response to sonar sounds each year (they suggest, with some justification, that these numbers–based on averaging population distributions–are likely to be over-estimates).

While most of the Navy’s assumptions and analyses are on fairly solid ground, a key one is more questionable: the assumption that few right whales will hear or react to sounds from the training ground.  The Navy’s own propagation estimates suggest noise levels within the critical habitat will reach levels that have often triggered behavioral disruption in whales.  It’s important that the Navy be pushed to do careful monitoring of the whales once the range is operational, and if they’ve underestimated impacts, they may need to minimize or avoid training in the winter, when the whales are nearby.   Read the rest of this entry »

China Continues Pushback Against Lurking LFAS Ship

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Throughout the spring, China has been actively complaining about the presence of the USNS Impeccable off its coast (see earlier AEInews coverage).  This week, the “Bejing Review,” an English-language weekly, ran a story on the controversy, playing the environmental card in its efforts to reach in international audience, though some of its examples confused mid-frequency sonar-related strandings with the LFAS system, which has not been associated with any known strandings (though monitoring is nearly impossible, given its very long range), and falsely claims that sonar training was banned off the California Coast and that the Navy discontinued sonar training off Hawaii.  The story reports that a humpback whale was found stranded near Hong Kong “not long after”  the Impeccable had been driven away, though no details are included about any investigation into the causes of the stranding.

The Impeccable is one of the US’s two ships equipped with Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS), both of which are deployed in the western Pacific to monitor 
Chinese and North Korean submarines.  In addition to harassing the Impeccable (which both emits LFAS signals and receives echoes on its SURTASS towed array of hydrophones), Chinese Navy and fishermen have dogged  the USNS Victorious, one of several other US ships that can receive LFAS echoes on their own SURTASS arrays.

USNS Impeccable

USNS Impeccable

China maintains that US warships must receive permission to travel in China’s Exclusive Read the rest of this entry »

“Gliders” Coming of Age for Ocean Acoustic Monitoring

Bioacoustics, Ocean, Science, Sonar No Comments »

One of the more exciting new technologies to come of age in the past couple years is ocean “gliders” that can cruise the seas, silently or nearly so, while collecting data ranging from temperature and salinity to sounds. The gliders are small (roughly 6 feet long), and surface periodically to send data to satellite communication systems. Some gliders are battery powered and can cruise for about a month, while the leading edge approach is to use a temperature-sensitive ballast that allows the glider to travel for up to five years at sea.  As a tool for working with ocean noise issues, gliders hold great promise for use in monitoring the seas before sonar trials, as well as for regional acoustic mapping/monitoring.  In late 2007, researchers at Defense Research and Development Canada used a glider to listen in on beaked whale calls; recording and analysis take place while the glider is below the surface; by the time it surfaces to send its data to researchers on shore, “it already thinks it knows whether it has a beaked whale or a sperm whale,” according to lead researcher Jim Theriault.  The US Navy has a few training ranges where bottom-mounted hydrophones make it much easier to monitor for beaked and other whales before and during sonar exercises; gliders could bring this advanced capability to sonar training anywhere at sea.

WHOI glider in the water

WHOI glider in the water

This spring, the US Navy placed orders for $6 million worth of Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Gliders (LBS-G), with options for up to $50 million more over the next four years.  It appears that, at least for now, the Navy is planning to use the gliders as part of their near-shore (littoral) defense system, rather than as adjuncts to monitor for whales near sonar exercises.   Early this year, the NATO Undersea Research Group (NRUG) ordered 4 to 7 gliders, though it’s unclear whether they will be outfitted with hydrophones.  At Woods Hole, Mark Baumgartner’s research group has been using a fleet of 20 gliders (which were initially developed at Woods Hole, before being commercialized by a WHOI scientist) to listen in on baleen whales as they study whale distribution and habitat in the Gulf of Maine; however, before long-term deployment and research can begin, the team is developing instruments and software to allow for near real-time assessment and classification of the sounds.  Once that’s up to speed, larger scale monitoring can begin.  Non-acoustic gliders are in use worldwide by Rutgers researchers, where the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (COOL) has been using them since 2003.

Gliders hold great promise as a benign yet active platform for ocean observing, especially in acoustics.  Any boat-based monitoring brings its own noise along for the ride, while bottom-mounted hydrophones need more complex communication systems (generally cables).  Gliders are effectively silent, and move so slowly that even in the case of a fluke collision with a sea creature, no harm will come to either party.  Keep an eye on this exciting new technology!

Minke Whales Flee Sonar in UK

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Two UK environmental and research organizations that were monitoring whale activity during a recent NATO naval exercise report that minke whales were seen fleeing along the surface while their hydrophones were picking up loud mid-frequency active sonar signals.  Observers from the Hebrides Whale and Dolphin Trust saw “two minke whales within an hour displaying unusual and worrying behaviour. At the same time they heard military sonar on the hydrophone – sometimes so loud that they could not keep the headphones on. The whales were both moving in the same direction at high speed, regularly leaping clear of the water. This behaviour, known as ‘porpoising’, is more typical of dolphins and rarely seen in undisturbed whales.”

Porpoising minke whale. Credit: HWDT

Porpoising minke whale. Credit: HWDT

Nienke van Geel, HWDT’s Biodiversity Officer said “Seeing minke whales porpoising many times successively is very unusual. Both whales moved very fast, too fast for us to keep up with them to try to take identification pictures. We estimated they were traveling at least at 15 knots. Our research has already shown a decline in minke whale sightings in the last few years, so we’re worried about anything that might adversely affect the population.” The incident is reported on in three posts from the HWDT’s colleagues, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).  The first includes the initial report of the incident, the second details the situation more fully and stresses the need for the UK Navy to conduct fully environmental assessments as the US Navy has begun to do at home, and the third clarifies that the US Navy should be, according the the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, applying for permits for sonar activities in UK waters, though it currently only does so for training in US waters.

Diverse Scientific Body Calls for Sonar Training Limits to Specified Areas

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A new report issued in the wake of an active sonar mitigation workshop held by the European Cetacean Society calls unequivocally for sonar training to be limited to relatively small dedicated areas.  By contrast, the US Navy continues to insist that it needs access to nearly the entire eastern seaboard and most of the west coast as well, in order to have enough flexibility to train “realisically.”  The ECS working group report, by an impressively diverse set of researchers ranging from NRDC’s Michael Jasny to Woods Hole scientist Peter Tyack, calls on the world’s navies to “commit without delay” to “minimum procedures” including: Read the rest of this entry »

Bill Would Match Navy Marine Mammal Research Funds With $25M for the MMC

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Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) marked Earth Day by announcing the introduction of a bill that would provide $25 million per year to the Marine Mammal Commission to fund new research into the effects of human activities on whales and dolphins, with a particular focus on the effects of active sonar. “We need to end the fighting and resolve these issues, but we can’t really do that until we’re sure we all know what we’re talking about,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “We have to fully understand the effects of human activities, including underwater sound, on marine mammals and determine how to mitigate any harmful impact. That requires expanded and focused research.”  By comparison, the Navy, currently the largest source of research funding, spends $26 million per year on its marine mammal research programs, which include studies of the effects of sound as well as many other topics, including a wide range of population studies, and a recent agreement between the Navy and NRDC will devote $5 million per year to several topic of mutual interest. For several years, the MMC has recommended that an independent research initiative such as the one proposed by Abercrombie be established; many environmental advocates have also long called for research funding to be more independent of the Navy and the perceived constraints that its priorities impose on research topics.  Abercrombie is serving what is likely to be his last of ten terms as an Hawaiian congressman; he has announced plans to run for Governor in 2010.

An earlier version of the bill, HR 5106, was introduced in January 2008; it appears likely that the new bill is substantially similar.  Read the old bill here.

Night Sonar Test in Northwest; Transient Orcas in Area

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Earlier this month, the US Navy spent a night testing sonar and communications systems on the USS San Francisco, a submarine that had recently completed major repairs to its sonar dome after crashing into a seamount in 2006.  

A recent photo of the U.S. Navy submarine, the U.S.S. San Francisco (Photo: RLW)

A recent photo of the U.S. Navy submarine, the U.S.S. San Francisco (Photo: RLW)

The sub was doing “required training dives” in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, with an escort ship also present; the Navy ships did not enter Haro Strait, a more constrained channel where sonar training stirred up considerable controversy in 2003.  Orca researchers throughout the region picked up unusual sounds (sonar pings and human voices) from 7pm to 3am on the night of April 6-7; the sounds were audible from San Juan Island to Whidbey Island and Port Washington and Port Townsend.  

Read the rest of this entry »

New Study: “Sonar Deafens Dolphins”, or, Sonar Impacts Have Been “Vastly Overestimated”??

Ocean, Science, Sonar No Comments »

A study published this week in the British journal Biology Letters has raised a bit of a ruckus, with headlines suggesting that it confirms that sonar can deafen dolphins (even Nature and New Scientist ran such heads).  The paper is a brief report (3pp) on a study in which a captive dolphin was exposed to recordings of actual mid-frequency active sonar signals (5.6kHz) at gradually increasing volumes until a consistent temporary threshold shift (TTS) was induced.  Surprisingly, considering the long-running controversies over these sonars, this is the first study to use actual sonar sounds in this way, rather than generic stand-in sounds.  The researchers found that they had to ramp up the sonar sounds to 203dB SPL rms (214dB SEL) to “consistently” induce a TTS of 6db; such exposures would occur only within about 40m of sonar vessels, though in some situations (multiple ships, clear sound propagation conditions), could occur at greater distances. This shift faded rather rapidly, to 4dB at 10 minutes, and back to baseline hearing in 20 to 40 minutes.  This is not “deafness,” but rather what one of the researchers termed a “rock concert effect” Read the rest of this entry »

Navy Training Spurs Public Concerns, Myths

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Public hearings on the US Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex have turned, predictably enough, into a circus of public outrage and Navy insistence that no big changes are planned.  While it’s true that the training being proposed is little different than that which has been ongoing for many years (decades) off the Pacific Northwest coast, with little indication of major impacts on wildlife or fisheries, the public is making the most of the first opportunity for public comment, now that the Navy is finally conducting full Environmental Impact Statements to assess their offshore training activities. Read the rest of this entry »

Chinese Navy Harasses US Low-Frequency Active Sonar Ship Near Chinese Base

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The USS Impeccable, one of two US Navy long-range Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) surveillance ships deployed in the western Pacific, was repeatedly harassed by Chinese Navy and other Chinese ships during March. The Chinese attempted to snag the towed array cables with poles, and to obstruct the ship’s passage by dropping wood in the water and buzzing it with its ships. The incidents took place 75 miles offshore from Hainan Island, site of a key Chinese submarine base; China claims sovereignty of its entire 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, while the US recognizes only the 12-mile territorial water limit, and insists the Impeccable was therefore operating legally in international waters. While the Impeccable is well-documented as one of the US Navy’s two LFAS ships designed specifically for monitoring quiet submarines, and deployed in areas where they can keep tabs on Chinese and North Korean navies, some press reports seemed to downplay or obfuscate this; for example the BBC report said that the Impeccable’s sonar is used to “map the ocean floor.” Sources: American Chronicle, 3/22/09 [READ ARTICLE] BBC, 3/10/09 [READ ARTICLE] SEE US NAVY VIDEOS OF THE INCIDENTS [YOUTUBE]

US to Sell Pakistan 445 Sonobuoys

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 The United States and Pakistan are cooperating in a new initiative to supply the Pakistani Navy with 445 sonobuoys, including mid-frequency active sonar units used to detect quiet submarines. It is not clear what subs would be the target for this program (the “Taliban Navy” and “Taliban Airforce” are often tossed out by bemused observers as the only likely mutual threats), or how carefully they would be deployed in regards to marine mammals. Source: Domain B, 3/9/09 [READ ARTICLE]

Philippines Stranding Spurs Wild Speculation by Senator

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In the Philippines this week, over 200 melon-headed whales appeared in near-shore waters across a large bay from Manilla, and appeared confused about how to get out.  Initial speculation ran wild, as a Philippine Senator called for an inquiry into whether the US research vessel the R.V. Langseth had created the trouble while doing a seismic survey that has garnered criticism from environmentalists, and was apparently on the Senator’s radar.  The inquiry is likely to be brief, as the Langseth is currently over 4000 miles away, working near Fiji.  (The surveys in question, which are currently awaiting a permit from the US NMFS, will take place later this spring and summer in various areas between China, Japan, and the Philippines.)  While our growing understanding of the impacts of human noise does make it worthwhile to consider whether noise may be implicated in strandings, jumping to ill-considered conclusions serves no one.  In this case, there is also speculation about dynamite fishing in the region; according to Environment Minister Jose “Lito” Atienza, he directly questioned the local Governor, who “confirmed it (was taking place).  He also said he was battling this illegal activity.”  Adding to the mystery is the simultaneous appearance of melon-headed whales in two widely-separated bays (Hawaii and Marianas Islands) in July 2004; these events took place on the same night during a full moon, and there is speculation they were following prey, perhaps squid.  In Hawaii, the next morning US Naval forces used mid-frequency active sonar beyond the mouth of the bay, and the whales appeared agitated, and perhaps were driven into shallower waters, in the Marianas the animals were apparently less disturbed, and “interacting with humans.”  This points to the possibility that noise can become an aggravating or additional factor in some situations, even if not the primary causative factor in bringing the whales into a dangerous situation.  The moon is again bright this week, though certainly the dynamite fishing deserves continued diligent scrutiny.

Press coverage of this incident: Senator blames Langseth, Dynamite fishing considered
US Navy description of earlier full-moon incidents

NMFS Gives Sonar OK for Atlantic Coast

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NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has formally given the Navy its seal of approval for the third of the Navy’s “Big 3” sonar training EISs, just in the nick of time as the Navy’s 2-year national security exemption expires.  The Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST) EIS, along with the recently approved EISs covering Hawaii and Southern California (SOCAL) training ranges, all contain virtually identical analyses of impacts and proposed safety measures, which mirror the “29 Safety Measures” the Navy formally adopted in January 2007 when it received an exemption to the MMPA in order to complete the then-newly-initiated EISs with fewer legal impediments.  The Navy’s sonar nemesis, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) immediately issued a press release that stressed the millions of marine mammals that the EISs predict will hear sonar signals and respond by some behavioral changes (2 million per year, for five years). Read the rest of this entry »

Navy Gets Formal OK from NOAA for Sonar Operations in Hawaii

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The Navy took another step on its reformed NEPA compliance path this week, as it received a formal Letter of Authorization to proceed with sonar training missions in waters around Hawaii.  The Hawaii training range was the first of 11 Navy ranges to complete its Environmental Impact Statement; the Navy began planning this step of NEPA compliance in 2006 (belatedly, and spurred on by legal challenges), and received a national security exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in early 2007 to protect the training from legal challenges until the EISs could be completed.  Two other ranges have released final EISs (Atlantic coast and Southern California), with five Draft EISs recently released (including the Pacific Northwest and an Undersea Warfare Training Range off the southeast Atlantic coast).  It is unclear how sonar training will proceed in these other ranges once the exemption expires in late January; perhaps a shorter exemption will be issued to allow the EISs to be completed, or an agreement will be reached to eschew legal challenges in the interim.

The NOAA authorizations largely affirm the Navy’s current mitigation measures, including safety zones that have been challenged in the past as too small, and refusing (in the name of operational flexibility) to set any areas off-limits to sonar.  While NOAA expects that the Navy’s safety measures should prevent injury, they acknowledge that in some situations strandings have occurred, and the authorizations allow for up to ten deaths of each of eleven species.  (In Hawaii, sonar training has taken place for decades, and none of the clearly sonar-related stranding events have taken place there.)  See below the fold for the AEI News Digest item on this story, with quotes from NRDC and links to the Letter of Authorization.

Read the rest of this entry »

Expert Panel Highlights Behavioral Impacts of Modest Ocean Noise

Bioacoustics, Ocean, Science, Seismic Surveys, Sonar 3 Comments »

Here at AEI, one of the fun tasks on my plate is writing lay summaries of new scientific research.  Usually.  Early in 2008, a dense volume of the journal Aquatic Mammals was published, which featured the results of a multi-year effort by an all-star team of American ocean noise researchers, who were attempting to distill all the current research on ocean noise, and to recommend Exposure Criteria for marine mammals.  Suffice to say, I read it several times, highlighting madly, but kept putting it aside, reticent to attempt a coherent narrative summary.  

Well, I finally followed through, and what follows (below the fold) is a pretty decent summation of what they came up with.  The headline news is twofold: in addressing noise that may cause physical injury (defined as permanent hearing loss), the authors present a dizzying array of extrapolations and assumptions (largely precautionary but sometimes pure leaps of faith) in order to try to assess the impact of extremely loud sound on marine mammals, given that there is very very little direct data to work with.  They conclude that safety limits could be modestly increased without deafening more whales.  On the behavioral side of the ledger, things are not that much clearer, but much more fascinating.  A series of charts that compile results from all known behavioral response observations highlight the wide range of responses that a given level of sound may cause, but also provide some solid evidence that many marine mammals show fairly dramatic behavioral change when encountering fairly modest sound levels, far below those that current regulations consider necessary to monitor.  With that, if you want to know more, I invite you to click on through….

Read the rest of this entry »

Navy, NRDC Agree to Move Sonar Dispute out of Court

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The US Navy and the NRDC and its co-plaintiffs have settled a long-running lawsuit that challenged the Navy’s overall management of its mid-frequency active sonar program (this suit was separate from more high-profile challenges to specific training missions, one of which recently ended up in the Supreme Court). The resulting agreement formalizes the Navy’s recent commitment to NEPA compliance, which is by all accounts much improved since the suit was filed in 2005, and provides for increased transparency by the Navy about its sonar operations. Both parties trumpeted their glad tidings of prevailing over the stubborn demands of the other (see below), though it is far from clear how the parties will resolve continuing underlying disagreements over what degree of safety measures are necessary.  The most significant new piece of the settlement is a commitment to pursuing three lines of research of interest to both parties, most strikingly studies of stress in marine mammals.

(Details of the settlement, with analysis of the potential benefits, are below the fold)

Read the rest of this entry »

Navy Final EIS Says Sonar Training Doesn’t Need Restrictions

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The Navy, as planned, has released its final EIS governing mid-frequency active sonar training along the entire eastern seaboard, as well as a similar EIS for southern California sonar use.  While the documents consider formal Alternatives that would limit sonar training to specific areas—either permanently or seasonally, based on marine mammal breeding, feeding, and migration patterns—the Navy concludes that these restrictions would not make a significant difference in how many whales are affected, so they propose to continue training at will within their entire current Operation Areas (OPAREAS). Read the rest of this entry »

Passive Acoustic Detection of Beaked Whales: Easy Within 1km, Harder Beyond That, and Take Your Time!

Science, Sonar 1 Comment »

The US Navy and others are working hard to find ways to detect elusive beaked whales so that they may be less apt to be triggered into behaviors that seem to cause them to occasionally beach and die.  One “great white hope” is passive acoustic detection, or listening for their calls.  A recent paper from a team of well-known researchers suggests that we should be able to quite easily detect beaked whales while they are foraging (and echolocating)….but with several important caveats.  First, detection is highly likely only within 700 meters, with perhaps 50% likelihood of detection at 2-3km, and virtually no chance of hearing them beyond 4km. Read the rest of this entry »

Scientists Call Strongly for More Stringent Safety Thresholds for Sonar Exposure

Ocean, Science, Sonar 2 Comments »


This is an AEI lay summary of the following academic paper:
Parsons, Dolman, Wright, Rose, Burns. Navy sonar and cetaceans: Just how much does the gun need to smoke before we act? Marine Pollution Bulletin 56 (2008) 1248–1257.
This paper represents a clarion call by several biologists who are convinced that we now have enough information about the impacts of sonar on whales to justify the imposition of more stringent safety measures. In contrast to Navy insistence that there is no widespread problem, and to the slow and patient progression of scientific data to clarify exactly what the mechanisms that lead to strandings may be, these authors lay out a compelling case for a change in course.

The paper begins with a litany of strandings that have stayed below the radar of most observers, Read the rest of this entry »

AEI News in Context: Supreme Court Sonar Ruling

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What does it mean? How will this ruling affect the ongoing debate as the Navy rolls out its regional EISs to govern sonar training in offshore ranges around the US coastlines and Pacific ocean? It’s interesting to note that the Navy did not appeal two aspects of the lower courts’ safety measures: establishing a 12-mile coastal buffer and avoiding a key biologically rich area in the offshore California range that this case concerned. A key issue in the EIS process is shaping up to be the Navy’s reluctance to set any areas off limits for sonar training; some observers speculate that the Navy’s hard line on this in draft EIS’s is designed to give them room to “give” a bit here in final negotiations with regulators and environmental advocates. It is also worth noting that the Navy did not appeal additional safety measures that were imposed by a Hawaiian court at nearly the same time as this California court made its decision;it appears that the California approach, which imposed shut-downs at larger distances (rather than simply reducing power gradually as whales came closer), and ordered mandatory power-downs in surface duct conditions whether whales were present or not, was too absolute for the Navy to accept, while the Hawaiian approach, which called for gradual shifts of operational procedures only when whales were observed, was deemed less disruptive to Naval training needs. Read the rest of this entry »

Navy Wins Supreme Court Sonar Case

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 This week, the Supreme Court ruled in the Winter v. NRDC case, finding that that the District Court “failed properly to defer to senior Navy officers’ specific, predictive judgments” about how the Court-imposed additional safety measures would impact the Navy’s ability to effectively train its personnel. The case addressed only two specific additional safety requirements that the Navy had appealed (it chose not to appeal 4 others): a much larger (over a mile) safety zone requiring shut-down of sonar whenever whales were present, and reduced power when surface ducts were present. Three opinions were written, expressing the range of responses among the nine Justices: Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court Hears Navy Sonar Case, Transcript Available

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For two hours on Wednesday, the long-running dispute between the Navy and NRDC over mid-frequency active sonar had its day in the Supreme Court, and while the Justices did broach some questions about the relative likelihood of harm to cetaceans or Navy training, the legal case itself rests on more procedural grounds having to do with the powers of Federal Judges to invoke new environmental standards, and of the Executive Branch to set aside judicial rulings in the name of national security. Court watchers suggested that the Justices seemed to split in a traditional left-right formation, based on comments made during the hearing. A ruling is not expected until spring. Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court to Hear Sonar Case October 8

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Oral arguments on the California sonar case will take place before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, October 8, in the culmination of perhaps the most convoluted sonar challenge to date. The case began as a simple NEPA challenge to routine Naval sonar training off the Southern California coast in early 2007, and has turned into a test of the powers of both the executive and judicial branches to set environmental standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Undersea Warfare Training Range DEIS Moves Site to Florida, Near Right Whale Calving Area

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A new Draft Overseas EIS released by the Navy shifts the preferred site for a long-planned sonar training range from North Carolina to Florida, near Jacksonville. The 575 square mile Undersea Warfare Training Range would be outfitted with a grid of instrumentation which is designed to provide detailed feedback during training missions using mid-frequency active sonar. The instrumentation, including passive listening devices, would also allow for more robust monitoring for marine mammals. Read the rest of this entry »

AEI FactCheck: Navy/NRDC Battle of the Soundbites

Animal Communication, Human impacts, News, Science, Sonar No Comments »

Been wondering what’s up with the great “Sonar Kills Whales”/”Everything’s Fine, Just Go Away” rhetorical battle between NRDC and the Navy? As you might suspect, the reality is not nearly so neatly defined as either of them might suggest….and if you’re up for digging into it more deeply, the Acoustic Ecology Institute has just posted an AEI FactCheck that explores three key questions:

  • Dead Whales: How Common?
  • Behavioral Reactions: Millions of Whales Affected, or Negligible Impact
  • Additional Mitigation: Common Sense Precautions or Undermining Sailor Safety?

There’s a fair dose of decoding science and regulatory details in this document, as well as acknowledgment of the underlying unspoken ethical questions that lead to radically different perspectives on the same data.

Check it out at
AEI is a resource/information center for sound-related environmental issues, run by editor/writer Jim Cummings (yup, that’s me…). We’ve some how managed to become friends with top scientists and agency staff, major environmental groups, and even a few folks in the Navy and oil and gas industry. More at