Hawaii Resists LFAS Tests
As Global Outrage Grows
By Sue Arnold

Unprecedented global outrage and four lawsuits may have convinced the U.S. Navy to prematurely end its Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) tests in the waters off the big island of Hawaii according to activists.  The Navy's vessel, Cory Chouest, left Hawaiian waters last week.

Citizen pressure isn't letting up as Resolution HCR 134 moved through various stages in the Hawaii State legislature. This week, a joint hearing of three committees unanimously passed the Resolution which urged the Navy not to conduct further testing or use of SURTASS LFA devices in Hawaiian waters until completion or approval of the final project Environmental Impact Study.

E-mails, letters, phone calls and faxes of protest have poured into the office of President Clinton as word of the LFAS tests spread around the world. The general public has strongly reacted to the damage inflicted on cetaceans and other marine creatures. Hawaiian activists say more than half a million e-mail protests have been generated so far. They say the protest is growing fast as more people become aware of the tests.

Demands for a Congressional Hearing into the Navy's use of LFAS are growing, as the global grassroots campaign attracts more and more outraged people who want the tests stopped permanently.

In Australia where campaigners are very active, moves are being made to bring the issue of LFAS before the European Parliament.  Research indicates that NATO, as well as other countries with navies, are using the same technology.

An urgent appeal will also be made to the United Nations Environment Program for all LFAS tests and technology to be outlawed, particularly in this Year of the Ocean.

Dr. Paul Spong, an internationally recognized marine expert, says the effect of the LFAS tests is to blast incredibly powerful levels of sound at the marine environment.

"These tests have taken place as the humpback whales arrive in the Hawaiian waters to give birth and breed - they have traveled over 2,500 miles.  Yet, in this place of sanctuary, newborn calves and mothers have been subjected to incredibly powerful levels of sound that are known to be harmful.

"For years the Navy has been developing a sonar system designed to detect quiet submarines. The system involves projecting low-frequency sound at very powerful levels, making sound waves travel over huge distances in the ocean.

"Aquatic animals are more vulnerable to high sound. Whales and dolphins are particularly vulnerable, as powerful underwater sounds can harm their hearing, even damaging the structure of the inner ear. Sound pressure waves can cause difficulties in navigation, feeding, and communication. Even weaker sounds may stop them from feeding and interfere with mating.

"It may well prove impossible to assess the impacts of the tests on whales. If they are deafened, we will never know. I am reminded of the hydrogen bomb tests conducted by the U.S. military at Bikini Atoll.  Such is the horror of these tests. Only people can defeat the power of a military mind which schemes in the dark and cares nothing for the consequences except the win."

Eyewitness accounts detail episodes of acute distress, death and bizarre behavior during the tests including: A decline in the number of humpback whales off the west coast of Hawaii starting at the same time testing began; an almost total absence of whales by mid-March; physiological injury to at least one swimmer in the water who was exposed to a 125 dB broadcast - a doctor's examination concluded the swimmer had experienced severe trauma; a baby Humpback whale separated from the mother whale demonstrating numerous signs of distress including prolonged breaching over a two-hour period, prolonged pectoral slapping and tail slapping over the next two hours, swimming within 100 feet of shore after five hours; whales swimming at excessive speeds; a pod of dolphins exhibiting behaviors such as moving close to shore, abnormal levels of vocalization, abnormal time on the surface; other reports of abnormal conditions including gatherings of sharks not normally seen.

No attempt was made by the Navy to warn mariners, divers, dive-shop operators, snorkeling-tour operators or the general public about the tests or their potential to harm humans.  The Resolution currently before the Hawaiian legislature insists that the Navy EIS include a compilation and analysis of sightings and observations from whale-watch vessels, fishermen, and research organizations .

Jay Murray, President of the Society for Ocean Acoustic Research, is a professional scuba diver who was exposed to LFAS tests by the US navy in l994. "When I first experienced this extremely unusual sound I had just started to descend with two buddies into the waters just south of Carmel, California. It was the strangest sound I had ever heard.  My lungs vibrated with every pulse of sound."

As a result of the experience, Murray spent the next three and a half years investigating the Navy's LFAS testing.   He says the system can transmit up to and beyond levels of 235 dB.

"There are several other high-power sound sources that may be affecting the Humpback population. In the North Pacific Ocean there are two SOFAR or RAFOS transducers placed directly between the Hawaiian Islands and the Aleutian Islands.  There is also one SOFAR transducer located approximately 50 miles south of Midway Island at the west end of the Hawaiian Island chain.

"I have spoken at every public hearing I could possibly attend to stop deployment of ocean basin scale sound transmitters.

"The majority of great whales use frequencies below 100 Hz to communicate, navigate, find prey species, and find mates. The Navy is currently using 250Hz and a transmit power of 185dB to test Humpback reactions.

The Navy must stop the testing and prohibit any deployment of the LFAS system in Pacific Waters." The Navy has been testing this system since l988 and has conducted approximately 25 tests in various oceans.  A ship designed to carry the SURTASS LFA system, at a cost of approximately $60,000,000, has been commissioned by the Navy.

Evidence from Phase I of the testing off the U.S. west coast shows vocalizations of Blue Whales declined 50% and vocalizations of Fin Whales decreased 30%.  In Greece, strandings of numerous whales caused by LFAS tests, have been confirmed by scientists.  Further LFAS tests are scheduled to take place on the West Coast soon, when gray whales will be the target.

Sue Arnold, Australians for Animals NSW Inc., P.O. Box 673, Byron Bay NSw 2481, Australia. Phone: 61 66 843769, Fax: 61 66 843768 or E-mail: arnolds@om.com.au   

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