Order Code RL33133
Active Military Sonar and Marine Mammals:
Events and References
Updated February 11, 2008
Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Information Research Specialist
Knowledge Services Group
Active Military Sonar and Marine Mammals:
Events and References
The deployment of active sonar by the U.S. Navy and its potential impacts on
marine mammals has been an ongoing issue of intense debate; regulatory, legislative,
and judicial activity; and international concern. Some peacetime use of military
sonar has been regulated under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and
other statutes due to concerns that active military sonars are operated at frequencies
used by some cetaceans (i.e., whales, porpoises, and dolphins), and their highintensity sound pulses may travel long distances in the ocean. There is also concern
that sonar transmissions of sufficiently high intensity might physically damage the
hearing in cetaceans or cause them to modify their behavior in ways that are
detrimental. Although mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in several beaked
whale strandings, there is scientific uncertainty surrounding the totality of the effects
active sonar transmissions may have on marine mammals.
This report summarizes legal and political events related to active sonar and
marine mammals since 1994. Prior to the late 1990s, concerns focused primarily on
the use of underwater sound as a research tool. While strandings and mortality of
marine mammals, primarily beaked whales, have been observed in concurrence with
mid-frequency sonar operation, additional controversy has focused on the
development of low-frequency active (LFA) sonar. Environmental interests are
concerned with LFA sonar because low-frequency sound travels farther than midfrequency sound and is closer in frequency to those known to be used by baleen
Additional questions involve how to balance obligations of the military to
comply with MMPA provisions (as well as provisions of the National Environmental
Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act) with national security concerns. In
2003, Congress passed P.L. 108-136, wherein §319 amended the MMPA to authorize
exemptions from restrictions on harassing and otherwise taking marine mammals for
Generally speaking, concern about the environmental effects of ocean noise is
now principally focused on three activities — military sonar exercises, oil and gas
exploration, and commercial shipping. This report summarizes some of the more
significant recent events pertaining to active military sonar, in particular.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Additional References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Active Military Sonar and Marine Mammals:
Events and References
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. §§1361, et
seq.) established a moratorium1 on the taking of marine mammals in U.S. waters and
by U.S. nationals on the high seas. Under the MMPA, take means “to harass, hunt,
capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill.”2 In addition, harassment
encompasses both behavioral disruption and physical injury, short of death.3
However, the MMPA does allow U.S. citizens to apply for and obtain authorization
for taking small numbers of mammals incidental to certain activities (e.g., offshore
oil and gas exploration and development), if that taking would have no more than a
negligible effect on any marine mammal species or stock, and mitigation and
monitoring requirements and other conditions are met.
Some peacetime use of military sonar has been regulated under the MMPA and
other statutes due to concerns that active military sonars4 operate at frequencies5 used
by some cetaceans6 and may travel long distances in the ocean. Current sonars in
widespread use are primarily mid-frequency sonars. Mid-frequency active sonar
operates between 2 and 20 KiloHertz (KHz), with most current systems using 3-5
KHz and 7-10 KHz. Low-frequency sonar is being developed to detect quieter
submarines at greater distances.7 Low-frequency active (LFA) sonar operates below
2 KHz, with most operation between 600 and 1500 Hz, except the U.S. Navy’s
Although the MMPA (16 U.S.C. §1371) refers to this action as a “moratorium,” some
consider this action a ban or prohibition because it was (and is) permanent.
16 U.S.C. §1362(13).
16 U.S.C. §1362(18).
Active sonar involves the transmission of various sounds (pulses, tonal signals, or bands
of acoustic energy) and the interpretation of received echoes as a way of sensing the
environment. Passive sonar involves listening without transmitting these sounds. Nonmilitary active sonars, such as the Integrated Marine Mammal Monitoring Protection System
(IMAPS) active tracking system and high-frequency bathymetric mapping sonars, are not
the primary focus of this report.
Frequency is expressed as the number of cycles or completed alternations per unit time of
a sound wave, most often measured in Hertz (Hz).
Baleen whale sounds are usually below frequencies of 500 Hz and predominantly below
100 Hz; exceptionally some clicks can reach 3000 Hz. Toothed cetaceans, such as sperm
whales, beaked whales, dolphins, and porpoises, are characterized by their higher frequency
sounds, from 400 Hz to as high as 8000 Hz.
The U.S. Navy committed to developing a low-frequency active sonar system in the late
Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) which operates between 100
and 500 Hz. When the transmission power is sufficiently high in intensity,8 there is
concern that sonar transmissions could physically damage the hearing in cetaceans
or cause them to modify their behavior in ways that are detrimental to their wellbeing, invoking the requirements of the MMPA moratorium on taking. Although
mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in several beaked whale strandings, there
is scientific uncertainty surrounding the totality of the effects active sonar
transmissions may have on marine mammals.
This report summarizes administrative, legal, and political events related to
active sonar and marine mammals. Prior to the late 1990s, concerns focused
primarily on the use of underwater sound as a research tool.9 While strandings and
mortality of marine mammals, primarily beaked whales, have been observed in
concurrence with mid-frequency sonar operation, additional controversy has focused
on the development of LFA sonar. Environmental interests are concerned with LFA
sonar because low-frequency sound travels further than mid-frequency sound and is
closer in frequency to those known to be used by baleen whales. Additional
questions involve how to balance the obligations of the military to comply with
MMPA provisions (as well as provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act
and the Endangered Species Act) with national security concerns. Generally
speaking, concern about the environmental effects of ocean noise is now principally
focused on three activities — military sonar exercises, oil and gas exploration, and
commercial shipping. This report summarizes some of the more significant recent
events pertaining to active military sonar, in particular.
Additional information and background can be obtained from the Navy’s
website at [http://www.whalesandsonar.navy.mil/], from the National Marine
Fisheries Service’s (NMFS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S.
Department of Commerce) “Ocean Acoustics Program” website at [http://www.
nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/], and from the University of Rhode Island’s “Discovery
of Sound in the Sea” website at [http://www.dosits.org/]. Detailed information on
the Navy’s SURTASS-LFA sonar system is available at [http://www.surtasslfa-eis.com/]. Four National Research Council reports provide substantial technical
background and summarize the scientific progress in understanding these
interactions. The concerns of environmental interest groups are summarized by the
Natural Resources Defense Council at [http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/marine/sonar.
Sound intensity is measured in decibels; a decibel (dB) is a unit used to express the
intensity of a sound wave, equal to 20 times the common logarithm of the ratio of the
pressure produced by the sound wave to a reference pressure (typically 1 micropascal at 1
meter, in water; 20 micropascals at 1 meter, in air). Thus, direct numerical comparisons of
noise intensity from sources in air and sources underwater cannot be made without taking
into account the differences in reference pressure. For example, a sound intensity of 235
dB underwater is equivalent to 209 dB in air. For additional background, see [http://www.
For background on early research concerns, see out-of-print CRS Report 95-603 ENR,
Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate: Marine Mammal Issues, by Eugene H. Buck,
available from the author.
asp] and in their 2005 report Sounding the Depths II: The Rising Toll of Sonar
Shipping, and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life.10
The National Research Council published Low Frequency Sound
and Marine Mammals: Current Knowledge and Research
05/12-13/1996 — A mass stranding of 12 Cuvier’s beaked whales occurred in the
Kyparissiakos Gulf, Greece, coincident with a NATO Shallow
Water Acoustic Classification research exercise.12
The U.S. Navy published a notice of intent to prepare
environmental impact statements for deployment of its
SURTASS LFA sonar.13
The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), an independent
federal agency, noted significant concerns in its annual report
that marine mammals could be affected by SURTASS LFA
deployment and recommended that uncertainties in
understanding potential impacts be addressed.14
06/15-17/1998 — The SACLANTCEN (Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic,
Undersea Research Center) Bioacoustics Panel met in La Spezia,
Italy, to investigate the May, 1996 mass stranding.
The U.S. Navy released for public comment a draft
environmental impact statement on the world-wide deployment
of its SURTASS LFA sonar system.
The U.S. Navy submitted an application for a Letter of
Authorization from NMFS to harass marine mammals incidental
to operating SURTASS LFA sonar.15 NMFS subsequently
asked the Navy to modify its application.
61 Fed. Reg. 37452-37453.
U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, Annual Report to Congress, 1997 (Bethesda, MD),
The Navy submitted a request to NMFS for formal consultation
on SURTASS LFA pursuant to §7 of the Endangered Species
NMFS gave advance notice of proposed rulemaking and
requested public comment on the Navy’s application.16
The National Research Council published Marine Mammals and
Low Frequency Sound: Progress Since 1994.17
03/15-16/2000 — Mass stranding of multiple whale species in the Northeast and
Northwest Province Channels of the Bahamas coincident with
tactical mid-frequency active sonar training exercises by the
U.S. Navy. Mortalities included five Cuvier’s beaked whales
and one Blainville’s beaked whale.
The U.S. Navy submitted a revised application for a Letter of
Authorization from NMFS to incidentally harass marine
mammals incidental to operating SURTASS LFA sonar.18
05/09-10/2000 — Three Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded at Madeira Island,
Portugal, coincident to the NATO Linked Seas 2000 exercise.
The pattern of injury to the auditory system of the stranded
whales was consistent with that observed in the Bahamas
The U.S. Navy released its Final Environmental Impact
Statement for the SURTASS LFA system.19
NMFS published a proposed rule authorizing the U.S. Navy to
harass marine mammals incidental to operating SURTASS LFA
The MMC commented to NMFS that its proposed rule was
insufficient to be confident that the proposed action would affect
only small numbers of marine mammals and have only
negligible effects on the affected species and stocks. In
addition, MMC viewed proposed monitoring and mitigation
64 Fed. Reg. 57026-57029.
66 Fed. Reg. 15375-15394.
programs as insufficient to confirm the validity of
The Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of
environmental groups sued the U.S. Navy to force the
preparation of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
on the Navy’s Littoral Warfare Advanced Development
The House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation,
Wildlife, and Oceans held a hearing on the MMPA, including
Panel V on SURTASS LFA.23
NMFS and the U.S. Navy completed a Joint Interim Report —
Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Event of 15-16 March
2000.24 The stranding was attributed to the Navy’s intensive use
of multiple tactical mid-frequency sonar units over an extended
period of time and contributory factors, including the presence
of a strong surface duct, unusual underwater bathymetry, and a
constricted channel with limited egress.
NMFS issued a biological opinion for SURTASS LFA in
accordance with §7 of the Endangered Species Act.
The General Accounting Office (GAO, now Government
Accountability Office) issued a report entitled Testing Needed
to Prove SURTASS/LFA Effectiveness in Littoral Waters.25
NMFS published a final rule authorizing the U.S. Navy to harass
marine mammals incidental to operating SURTASS LFA
sonar.26 This final rule became effective on August 15, 2002,
and remains in effect until August 15, 2007.
U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, Annual Report to Congress, 2001, Bethesda, MD,
Mar. 31, 2002, p. 175.
LWAD’s purpose is to develop and test techniques and technology, including several
operational and new experimental active sonars to detect and track submarines in shallow
coastal waters where SURTASS LFA would be ineffective.
67 Fed. Reg. 46712-46789.
The U.S. Navy published its record of decision on the worldwide deployment of its SURTASS LFA sonar system.27
Five environmental groups and a concerned individual filed a
lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco seeking to halt
Navy deployment of SURTASS LFA sonar (Natural Resources
Defense Council v. Evans).
NMFS announced that a one-year Letter of Authorization had
been issued to the Navy authorizing the taking of specified
marine mammals within specified areas of operation.28
The Federal District Court (Central District of California,
Western Division) found that the National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA) applies to LWAD activities, but that the LWAD
program, as distinct from its component parts, is not subject to
programmatic challenge under NEPA or the Endangered Species
At least 14 beaked whales of three species were stranded on the
Canary Islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote coincident with
NATO naval exercise Neo Tapon 2002.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte granted a preliminary
injunction limiting Navy deployment of SURTASS LFA after
finding NMFS issued the Navy a permit that likely violated
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte approved a stipulated
agreement between the Navy and environmental groups
allowing limited testing of SURTASS LFA while the federal
court considered the lawsuit challenging deployment.31
Because NMFS granted authorization on a categorical exclusion
for research rather than on an environmental assessment, U.S.
District Judge Samuel Conti granted a temporary injunction to
block testing of a low-power, high-frequency (above 20 KHz)
civilian whale-finding sonar (the Integrated Marine Mammal
67 Fed. Reg. 48145-48154; [http://www.surtass-lfa-eis.com/docs/LFA%20EIS%20ROD.
67 Fed. Reg. 55818.
NRDC v U.S. Department of the Navy, No. CV-01-07781 CAS (C.D. Cal. Sept. 19, 2002);
2002 U.S. Dist Lexis 26360.
NRDC press release at [http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/021031.asp]. Natural
Resources Defense Council v. Evans, N.D. Cal., No. C-02-3805, 232 F. Supp. 2d 1003 at
Monitoring Protection System or IMAPS) off the California
The National Research Council published Ocean Noise and
Language in the conference report on H.J.Res. 2 (P.L. 108-7),
providing FY2003 omnibus appropriations, directed the MMC
to fund an international conference, or series of conferences, to
share findings, survey “acoustic threats” to marine mammals,
and develop means of reducing those threats while maintaining
the oceans as a global highway of international commerce.34
A workshop on Active Sonar and Cetaceans was held at Las
Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, immediately before the
start of the 17th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean
Fourteen harbor porpoises were found beached and killer whales
were videotaped showing behavioral reaction to sonar
coincident with U.S.S. Shoup transit of Haro Strait, WA, while
using tactical mid-frequency sonar.
NMFS announced that two one-year Letters of Authorization
had been issued to the Navy authorizing the taking of specified
marine mammals within specified areas of operation.36
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte issued an opinion concluding that the NMFS marine mammal take authorization to the
U.S. Navy had violated several federal laws and ordered the
parties to meet and confer on the terms of a permanent
injunction that would allow the Navy to operate SURTASS LFA
in a limited fashion.37
Hawaii County Green Party v. Evans, C-03-0078-SC (N.D. CA 24 January 2003). This
sonar was designed for shallow water use, to detect subsurface whales before they came too
close to potentially risky situations, such as harbor blasting or LFA. For additional
information on IMAPS, see [http://www.scisol.com/imaps.htm].
H.Rept. 108-10, p. 777; [http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=
68 Fed. Reg. 50123-50124.
Natural Resources Defense Council v. Evans, N.D. Cal., No. C-02-3805, 279 F. Supp. 2d
The parties to the LFA litigation filed a stipulation regarding the
permanent injunction, which the court entered as an order on
October 14, 2003.38
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence released “Sonar
2087 and the Environment” to consider and address public
concerns about active sonar.39
President Bush signed P.L. 108-136, the National Defense
Authorization Act for FY2004, wherein §319 amended the
MMPA to exempt military readiness activities from “specified
geographical region” and “small numbers” requirements, and to
modify the definition of “harassment” applicable to military
The MMC announced the establishment of an Advisory
Committee on Acoustic Impacts on Marine Mammals.41
After NMFS prepared an environmental assessment, U.S.
District Judge Samuel Conti denied a permanent injunction to
block IMAPS testing off the California coast.42
NMFS announced release of preliminary report investigating
the acoustic exposure of stranded porpoises in Haro Strait, WA.
Although no conclusive link between Navy sonar and porpoise
deaths was found, the possibility of acoustic trauma as a
contributory factor in the mortalities was not ruled out. Killer
whales experienced acoustic levels likely to induce behavioral
reactions but insufficient to cause either temporary or permanent
The U.S. Navy released its report on the U.S.S. Shoup/Haro
Strait porpoise incident.43
For more information on these amendments, see pp. 20-22 of CRS Report RL32183,
Defense Cleanup and Environmental Programs: Authorization and Appropriations for
FY2004, by David M. Bearden.
68 Fed. Reg. 69089-69090; see also [http://www.mmc.gov/sound/].
Australians for Animals v. Evans, 301 F. Supp. 2d 1114 (N.D. CA 2004), see [http://www.
04/13-16/2004 — The MMC convened a workshop in Baltimore, MD, to discuss
the vulnerability of beaked whales to anthropogenic sound.44
U.S. Navy submitted an annual report to NMFS on SURTASS
LFA sonar operations.
NMFS received an application from the U.S. Navy for two
Letters of Authorization for taking marine mammals by
harassment incidental to deploying the SURTASS LFA sonar
NMFS published a proposed rule to amend its July 16, 2002
final rule and regulations on SURTASS LFA sonar to
implement provisions of P.L. 108-136 related to a military
The MITRE Corporation’s JASON Program Office completed
a study for the Office of Naval Research, seeking, in response to
whale strandings, to recommend modifications of the sonar
waveform as a mitigation strategy. The study’s conclusion was
that not enough was known about the damage mechanism and
the chain of causation for an engineering solution to be
developed to address this problem.46
Coincident with joint U.S.-Japan military exercises involving
tactical mid-frequency sonar, 150 to 200 melon-headed whales
were observed milling in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, HI.
The Standing Working Group on Environmental Concerns of
the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee
held a Mini-Symposium on Acoustics and reported that the
accumulated evidence is very convincing and appears
overwhelming, associating mid-frequency military sonar with
atypical beaked whale mass strandings.47
The Natural Resources Defense Council and three other environmental groups sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Gordon R.
England requesting a review of naval actions involving midfrequency active sonar.48
69 Fed. Reg. 38873-38876.
NMFS published a notice announcing issuance of two one-year
Letters of Authorization to the U.S. Navy to take marine
mammals by harassment incidental to operation of the
SURTASS LFA sonar system.49
09/28-30/2004 — The U.S. MMC and the U.K. Joint Nature Conservation
Committee held an international workshop in London, UK, on
the policy on sound and marine mammals.50
NMFS published a final report on the necropsy analysis of
stranded porpoises in Haro Strait, WA. Although the
examinations did not reveal definitive signs of acoustic trauma
in any of the porpoises examined, the multidisciplinary team
noted that lesions consistent with acoustic trauma can be
difficult to interpret or obscured, especially in animals in
advanced postmortem decomposition.51
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that marine mammals
do not have standing to sue the government over the Navy’s
testing of SURTASS LFA.52
The European Union’s (EU) Parliament passed, by a vote of
441-15, a non-binding resolution urging EU member states “...
to adopt a moratorium on the deployment of high-intensity
active naval sonars until a global assessment of their cumulative
environmental impact on marine mammals, fish and other
marine life has been completed.”53
At the second meeting of the parties to the Agreement on the
Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea
and contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS; Nov. 9-12, 2004,
in Palma, Majorca), the 16 member nations adopted Resolution
2.16 addressing man-made ocean noise, including naval sonar,
and guidelines for its use.54
The 3rd IUCN-World Conservation Union Congress (Bangkok,
Thailand, Nov. 17-25, 2004) passed a resolution encouraging
governments to reduce undersea noise, restrict military active
69 Fed. Reg. 51996-51998.
Cetacean Community v. Bush, U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No.
03-15866, 386 F.3d 1169.
sonar training to low-risk areas and develop “... international
standards that regulate its use.”55 The United States abstained
from voting on this resolution.
The National Research Council published Marine Mammal
Populations and Ocean Noise: Determining When Noise Causes
Biologically Significant Effects.56
NMFS published a technical analysis of acoustic exposures to
killer whales in Haro Strait, WA.57
A multispecies mass stranding event occurred in North Carolina,
associated in time and space with naval activity using midfrequency active sonar, but with no gas emboli lesions
(considered diagnostic of sonar-associated strandings) apparent
in stranded animals.58
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea59
released an assessment of the impact of sonar on cetaceans.60
A coalition of international conservation organizations
petitioned NATO to modify active sonar naval exercise
protocols to lessen potential harm to whales and other marine
The United States was reported to be drafting a policy position
stating strong opposition to any international regulatory
framework addressing military use of active sonar because of the
potential to restrict the ability of individual nations to balance
the relevant security and environmental interests.62
Created by the 1964 Convention for the International Council for the Exploration of the
Sea, this organization coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic
among its 19 Member nations.
dk/advice/cetaceans/sonaradvice.pdf], and [http://www.ices.dk/advice/Request/EC/DG%20
[http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/050210b.asp] and [http://www.nrdc.org/media/
The Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in U.S.
District Court (Manhattan) under the Freedom of Information
Act, seeking the release of documents by NMFS relating to mass
strandings, deaths of marine mammals, and the impacts of midfrequency active sonar on marine life.63
At the sixth meeting of the United Nations Open-Ended
Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea
(UNICPOLOS), a coalition of more than 120 environmental
organizations urged that steps be taken to protect cetaceans from
increasing human-generated underwater noise as a largely
unregulated form of pollution.64
The parties to the SURTASS LFA sonar litigation filed an
amendment to the stipulation regarding the permanent injunction
with Judge Elizabeth LaPorte, agreeing to expand the
operational area to include most of the Pacific between Japan
and Hawaii. Judge LaPorte approved this amendment on July
NMFS announced that two one-year Letters of Authorization
had been issued to the Navy authorizing the taking of specified
marine mammals within specified areas of operation.65
09/20-22/2005 — The MMC’s expert panel on marine mammals and acoustics
The Coast Guard announced the availability of a Draft
Programmatic Environmental Assessment on an Integrated AntiSwimmer System, potentially based on sonar, to be deployed to
enhance security at U.S. ports.67
The Natural Resources Defense Council and four other
environmental groups filed suit against the U.S. Navy, alleging
violation of environmental laws in mid-frequency sonar testing
NRDC v. NMFS, Civ. Action No. 05-CV-5172 (S.D. NY), see [http://www.nrdc.org/
“Coalition Urges UN Curbs on Harmful Ocean Sounds,” Reuters (June 8, 2005); see also
70 Fed. Reg. 49914-49915.
70 Fed. Reg. 57612-57613.
The U.S. Navy released its Draft Environmental Impact
Statement on a proposed sonar training range about 50 miles off
the NC coast.69
The U.S. Navy announced public hearings on its Draft
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement providing
supplemental analyses for the Navy’s use of SURTASS LFA
NMFS sought public comment on the U.S. Navy’s application
for an Incidental Harassment Authorization to harass marine
mammals during summer 2006 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC)
anti-submarine warfare training events, using mid-frequency
sonar in the U.S. Navy’s Hawaiian Operating Area.71
NMFS received the Navy’s application requesting authorization
of taking marine mammals incidental to deploying its
SURTASS LFA sonar system for military readiness activities.
NMFS issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to the
U.S. Navy, authorizing the small take of marine mammals
incidental to mid-frequency sonar use during RIMPAC
exercises, effective through August 15, 2006.72
In response to the NMFS authorization, the National Resources
Defense Council and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit
to block sonar use during RIMPAC.73
In response to the lawsuit filing, the Department of Defense
granted the U.S. Navy a six-month national defense exemption
from MMPA regulations for use of sonar during military
exercises on established ranges and operating areas.74
Ruling that the national defense exemption did not cover NEPA,
U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued a
Marc Kaufman, “Navy Moves Forward on Sonar Facility Despite Concerns About
Whales,” Washington Post, Oct. 23, 2005, p. A9.
70 Fed. Reg. 69526; see also [http://www.surtass-lfa-eis.com/Impactstate05.htm].
71 Fed. Reg. 20986-21003.
71 Fed. Reg. 38710-38738 (July 7, 2006).
[http://www.defenselink.mil/Releases/Release.aspx?ReleaseID=9706] and [http://www.
temporary restraining order to block (until a July 18th hearing)
Navy use of sonar during RIMPAC exercises.75
The Navy and environmental groups reached an agreement to
settle the pending lawsuit, allowing use of sonar in RIMPAC
exercises, with the Navy prohibited from using sonar within 25
miles of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National
Monument and required to use a variety of methods to monitor
and report the presence of marine mammals.76
U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the
Administration’s request to overturn an October 2003 lower
court decision limiting the peacetime deployment of SURTASS
NMFS published notice of the Navy’s application to take marine
mammals incidental to deploying SURTASS LFA sonar and
requested public comment.78
NRDC was reported as intending to expand its lawsuit against
Navy use of mid-frequency active sonar, based on claims of
violations in additional training exercises.79
The Navy released its report on operation of its SURTASS LFA
sonar system from August 2002 through August 2006.80
The California Coastal Commission voted to approve naval
exercises off California for two years, with certain modifications
(“conditions”) protective against mid-frequency sonar.81
The Department of Defense granted the Navy a two-year
exemption from MMPA requirements for use of sonar during
military exercises off all U.S. coasts.82
In response to the California Coastal Commission, the Navy
stated that it was unable to agree to 12 of the 14 conditions
71 Fed. Reg. 56965-56968.
“Environmentalists Eye Expanded Lawsuit Over Navy Sonar Impacts,” Defense
Environment Alert, v. 14, no. 23 (Nov. 14, 2006).
Available at [http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/surtass_lfa_final_report.pdf].
outlined by the commission regarding the use of mid-frequency
The California Coastal Commission and an environmental
coalition led by NRDC filed separate lawsuits against planned
Navy use of mid-frequency active sonar off the Southern
The Navy released a Final Environmental Impact Statement on
its SURTASS LFA sonar system.85
Earthjustice filed suit in Hawaii federal district court on behalf
of a coalition of environmental organizations seeking to halt use
of mid-frequency active sonar by the Navy in Hawaiian waters.86
NMFS announced an international research effort in the
Bahamas to study how marine mammals respond to underwater
sound, including active sonar.87
NMFS published proposed regulations governing the
unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy
operation of the SURTASS LFA sonar system though August
The Navy release a draft environmental impact statement for
sonar exercises in Hawaiian waters.89
Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of
California ruled against Navy use of mid-frequency active sonar
during exercises off the California Coast through December
NMFS issued regulations governing the unintentional taking of
marine mammals incidental to Navy operation of the SURTASS
LFA sonar system through August 15, 2012.90
Available at [http://www.coastal.ca.gov/fedcd/sonar/ccc-v-navy-2-22-2007.pdf].
Available at [http://www.surtass-lfa-eis.com/docs/lfaseis0507.pdf].
Available at [http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/complaint-against-navysonar-in-hawaii-05-16-07.pdf].
72 Fed. Reg. 37404-37418.
Available at [http://www.govsupport.us/navynepahawaii/EIS.aspx].
72 Fed. Reg. 46846-46893.
The Navy announced its decision to employ as many as four
SURTASS LFA sonar systems.91
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Navy a stay on the
District Court’s preliminary injunction restricting the use of
mid-frequency active sonar off the California coast, pending
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its stay, ordering the
Navy not to use mid-frequency active sonar in training exercises
off the California coast until questions concerning marine
mammal protection could be resolved, and ordered the District
Court to impose restrictions on Navy exercises sufficient to
adequately safeguard the environment.93
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
issued a preliminary injunction imposing a 12-nautical mile nosonar exclusion zone and other mitigation measures along the
California coast for Navy use of mid-frequency active sonar.94
The Secretary of Commerce submitted a written request to the
President that the Navy be exempted from compliance with the
federal Coastal Zone Management Act during Southern
California Operating Area Composite Training Unit Exercises
(COMPTUEX) and Joint Task Force Exercises (JTFEX) for use
of mid-frequency active sonar.
President Bush, for national security reasons, exempted the
Navy from compliance with the federal Coastal Zone
Management Act for use of mid-frequency active sonar during
COMPTUEX and JTFEX.95
U.S. District Court order reaffirms its January injunction,
requiring the Navy to reduce harm to whales and other marine
mammals from sonar training, finding that no emergency exists
warranting an exemption.96
72 Fed. Reg. 48269. A copy of the Navy’s Record of Decision is available at [http://
Available at [ ht t p: / / www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/Documents.nsf/
See [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/01/20080116.html]; also see [http://
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
issued a preliminary injunction limiting the area where the U.S.
Navy may train using SURTASS-LFA sonar systems.97
A. Fernandez, et al. “Pathology: Whales, Sonar and Decompression Sickness,”
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A. Frantzis, “Does Acoustic Testing Strand Whales?” Nature, v. 392 (1998): 29.
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Whales. Cause and Implications for the Species Biology,” in European
Research on Cetaceans - 12, Proc. 12th Ann. Conf. ECS, Monaco, 20-24
January, 1998, p. 332-335.
John Hildebrand, Impacts of Anthropogenic Sound on Cetaceans, International
Whaling Commission, Scientific Committee, IWC/SC/56/E13, (Sorrento,
P.D. Jepson, et al., “Gas-Bubble Lesions in Stranded Cetaceans: Was Sonar
Responsible for a Spate of Whale Deaths after an Atlantic Military Exercise?”
Nature, v. 425, no. 6958 (Oct. 9, 2003): 575-576.99
P.J.O. Miller, et al., “Whale Songs Lengthen in Response to Sonar,” Nature, v. 405
C.A. Piantadosi and E.D. Thalmann, “Pathology: Whales, Sonar and Decompression
Sickness,” Nature, v. 428 (2004): 1.
W. John Richardson, et al., Marine Mammals and Noise (San Diego, CA: Academic
Press, 1995), 576 p.
Mark Schrope, “Whale Deaths Caused by US Navy’s Sonar,” Nature, v. 415 (Jan.
10, 2002): 106.
M. Simmonds and L.F. Lopez-Jurado, “Whales and the Military,” Nature, v. 337
Available at [http://cetus.ucsd.edu/projects/pubs/SC-56-E13Hilde.pdf].
Available at [http://www.eurocbc.org/Gas-bubble%20lesions%20in%20stranded%20
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Report of the Workshop on Acoustic Resonance as a
Source of Tissue Trauma in Cetaceans (Washington, DC: National Marine
Fisheries Service, Nov. 2002).100
Jon M. Van Dyke, et al., “Whales, Submarines, and Active Sonar,” in Ocean
Yearbook, v. 18 (2004): 330-363.101
M. T. Walsh, et al., “Mass Strandings of Cetaceans,” in CRC Handbook of Marine
Mammal Medicine, L.A. Dierauf and F.M.D. Gulland, eds. (2001), pp. 83-96.
Available at [http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/acoustics/cetaceans.pdf].
Available at [http://www.mmc.gov/sound/internationalwrkshp/pdf/vandykeetal.pdf].