Testing the Waters (continued)

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


next  next

The Navy’s 36-ton LFAS system is a 57-meter block of 18 speakers. It can potentially assault hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean with sound. It transmits LFAS signals approximately four billion times louder than the volume scientists already know whales will swerve to avoid. And because LFAS is specifically designed to maintain its force over a great distance, it can be audible from thousands of miles away.

In 1996, facing the threat of litigation by the NRDC, the Navy agreed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before going ahead with the deployment. It is the first EIS the Navy has ever prepared for a new technology system of any kind, according to the NRDC. This landmark document is now complete, and the Navy expects to publish a draft for public comment within the next eight weeks.

Although publication of the EIS will be a symbolic victory, over at the NRDC there is no champagne on ice. With many of the study’s findings already published or leaked, it is no secret that the Navy will publicly conclude that it can “safely” deploy LFAS. Naturally, opponents are skeptical. They say the Navy’s tests were grossly inadequate. Of particular concern is the long-term effect of LFAS on marine mammals, which even the EIS researchers admit they haven’t studied.

Nevertheless, LFAS opponents will have their work cut out for them challenging the integrity of the EIS. The Navy hired some of the world’s leading experts on marine mammals and sound to conduct the research. Dr. Christopher Clark of Cornell University and Dr. Peter Tyack of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute lead the team.

The team conducted three phases of research from September 1997 through March 1998 off the coasts of California and the Hawaiian islands. The team watched each area’s whale population for any signs of strange behavior in reaction to LFAS sounds from 120 decibels, a level previous studies have shown whales avoid, to 155 decibels, the maximum level to which researchers felt they could safely expose the whales. While acknowledging that some whales did react to LFAS by changing direction or temporarily ceasing to sing, the team didn’t think these responses indicated harm being done. Neither did they observe “significant biological impact” on any key activities, such as breeding, nursing, or feeding. Tyack did say, however, that disruption of whale singing can possibly affect breeding.

“We did see detectable changes. We did find animals in that region [that] stop[ped] singing,” says Tyack, “But within half an hour they would adjust.” He felt LFAS wasn’t any more of a disruption than other human-made sounds, such as those of passing motor boats.

next  next

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate