Washington DC (August 21, 2008) - 'In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, and implementing regulations, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued two 1-year Letters of Authorization (LOAs) to take marine mammals by harassment incidental to the U.S. Navy's operation of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA) sonar operations to the Chief of Naval Operations, Department of the Navy.'
This is how the latest permission to harm whales was issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to the US Navy. Two Letters of Authorization give permission for the 'incidental harassment' of marine mammals by two ships, the R/V Cory Chouest and the USNS Impeccable by the use of low frequency active sonar for 'training, testing and routine military operations.' The areas of operation are a portion of the North Pacific Ocean.
NMFS state that the activities subject to the permissions will result in the taking of no more than small numbers of marine mammals and that the total taking will have no more than a negligible impact on marine mammal stocks. 'Taking' includes killing.
The permissions are valid through August 21, 2009.
Low frequency active sonar is designed to find very quiet enemy submarines by flooding the oceans with intense sounds and then reading the echo. Low frequency active sonar can emit sounds well over 180 decibels (re 1 microPa), which is 5,000 times louder than the US navy's own 'safe' level of 145 decibels for divers. Temporary deafness (called TTS for temporary threshold shift) which can result from exposure to such loud sounds, is not considered an injury even though it can last for days, exposing the creature to all kinds of threats such as predators and ship-strikes; interfere with feeding and breeding behaviors; and disorientate animals enough to cause them to strand.
The full text of the NMFS Letters of Authorizations can be found here.