NRDC Goes to Court to Fight the Military over Dolphins and Whales

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is taking the Bush Administration to Federal Court on June 30th, 2003. At issue is the survival of thousands of whales and dolphins.

This long-awaited courtroom battle is the culmination of an eight-year campaign by NRDC to stop the U.S. Navy from illegally deploying its Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar system -- a new technology that blasts ocean habitats with noise so intense it can maim, deafen and even kill marine mammals.

What's at stake? Consider: last year, the Bush administration issued the Navy a permit to deploy LFA sonar over 75 percent of the world's oceans and to harass or injure up to 12 percent of every single marine mammal species found anywhere in this vast expanse of ocean!

But before that disaster could unfold, the NRDC went to court last fall and won a dramatic eleventh-hour reprieve for thousands of whales and dolphins. A federal judge blocked global deployment of the sonar system until a full trial could be held and all the evidence heard.

That all-important proceeding will begin on June 30th. It will determine whether this dangerous technology is finally unleashed upon our planet's oceans -- or whether it should be permanently blocked until the Navy obeys the law and demonstrates that LFA would not cause serious harm to ocean life.

Scientists are warning that LFA sonar may threaten the very survival of entire populations of whales, some already teetering on the brink of extinction. At close range, the system's shock waves are so intense they can destroy a whale's eardrums, cause its lungs to hemorrhage, and even kill.

Further away, LFA noise can cause permanent hearing loss in marine mammals after a single transmission. At 40 miles away, LFA noise is still so intense it can disrupt the mating, feeding, nursing and other essential activities of marine mammals.

Two years ago, the mere testing of high-intensity Navy sonar in mid-frequency range caused a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas. Whales from three different species died, their inner ears bleeding from the explosive power of the sonar signal.

Just last month, a group of biologists off the coast of Washington state witnessed a "stampede" of distressed marine mammals as a U.S. destroyer, operating a powerful mid-frequency sonar system, passed through. Over the next several days, ten porpoises were discovered stranded on nearby beaches.

And the dangers go beyond marine mammals. In preparing for the upcoming trial, NRDC has uncovered the shocking results of the Navy's own LFA research on human scuba divers. One Navy test subject was exposed to 14 minutes of LFA noise at 160 decibels -- far below the level of 235 decibels at which the actual LFA system will be operating. The diver experienced uncontrollable shaking in his limbs and lapsed into a seizure-like state that recurred periodically for days. The Navy's report described him as a "casualty."

The Bush administration wants us to believe that the impacts of LFA will be negligible! Launching a massive acoustic assault on the world's oceans is not negligible. Threatening communities of whales, dolphins and humans with injury and death is not negligible.

According to John Adams, the President of the NRDC, the Bush administration's position on LFA is arrogant, inhumane and, almost certainly, illegal.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is in complete support of the NRDC effort to stop the deployment of LFA Sonar.

"The Navy is intent upon terrorizing dolphins, whales and other marine species with this overkill technology." Said Captain Paul Watson,"John Paul Jones said that the role of the U.S. Navy was to place itself in harm's way. Now we have the U.S. Navy placing entire species of whales and dolphins in harm's way. The question must be asked, "Just why is this LFA system being deployed?" It is only useful in nuclear submarine warfare. The Soviets are not a threat anymore. Terrorists do not deploy submarines. None of the so-called "Axis of Evil" nations have submarines. This is simply one of those pork barrel-waste-the-taxpayers-money schemes, but this time with the potential for serious global destruction to the world's whales and dolphins."