Voice of the Dolphin
Vol. 3 No. 2

POBox 1645 Pahoa, Hawai'I 96778 siriusinstitute@yahoo.com
Brigitte Sifaoui on LFAS Testing in the Azores
Voice of the Dolphin Vol. 3 No. 2 March 22, 2001

From the Stop LFAS Worldwide Network
go to http://listen.to/lfas viewpoints

Stop Low Frequency Active Sonar!

This letter was originally composed in French by Brigitte Sifaoui .  The text was lovingly translated byViviane Lerner who is a friend of some very nice people in the Stop LFAS Worldwide Network.

The LFAS scandal:

Animpossible dialogue? 

Whales live,get oriented and communicate through their songs and the sounds they emit.They are highly sensitive to any acoustic aggression. 

In the early ‘80s, the U.S. Navy was afraid of a new generation of Soviet submarines. The Sonar systems spread throughout the world to detect these submersible enemies would soon be obsolete. The Navy then reviewed all possible technologies, to conclude –without any Environmental Impact Study—that the best response to its own strategic needs was the low frequency active sonar [LFAS]. The engineers thus set out to implement and test this system in some remote countries, without any permit from federal environmental agencies. Some Navy internal documents clearly show that the military knew that low frequency sounds would harm the cetaceans. But the whole program was set up in total secrecy.  

Historical background

In 1995, the Natural Resources Defense Council heard of the program and sent the Navy a letter listing many laws violated by the use of the LFAS. In 1996, The Navy finally agreed to carry out an EIS for the LFAS. This research was also to covera scientific research program. Dr. Peter Tyack, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), was among the researchers. 

During the three stages of the scientific program, it became obvious that whales deviated from their usual migratory route to avoid the very powerful sounds emittedby this sonar; that they ceased to vocalize each time the sonar was operating;and that their vocalizations changed after the sonar sound emissions. Yet those sounds were thousands times less powerful than those used by the Navyin their routine tests&. 

In 1998, the same kind of research took place off Hawaii, authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). It consisted in selecting whales and bombarding them with sounds at regular intervals during an hour [daily, I suppose?] , from February to March with a sonar able to emit sounds equivalent to 100, 000 times those of a Boeing 747 engine at take-off! Public opinion reacted, through U.S. organizations first, quickly followed by international NGOs. Some activists tried to swim between the Navy ship and the whales to interrupt the operation. Protest letters came from all around the world.To no avail.

Within a few days, an unusual concentration of hammerheads,possibly perturbed by the sonar, showed up around Hawaii. The many dolphins of this area, also highly sensitive to noise, were not spared. A diver exposedto the sonar emissions came back up in a state of shock. The whale-watching operators and many onshore observers reached the same conclusion: the whaleshad left the area. A whale calf and a baby dolphin that became separatedfrom their mothers –quite unthinkable under usual conditions- wereobserved during the test period. The same happened with a baby globicephalusshortly after the experiment.

On the strength of such proofs, several environmental groups took the Navy, the NMFS and other federal organizations to Court. Nonetheless, the Navy completed their experiment and managed to convince the judges to not follow up on these complaints, since the tests were over and more tests were out of the question. 

New developments

In March 2000, the LFA program Research Director declared by email that stage IV of the research program was set to begin: more tests would take place off the Azores, the Dominican Republic and probably Hawaii! Hawaii Green Party thus resumed their legal action interrupted in 1998. To which the Navy reacted with a written statement under oath: no research of this type would ever be financed orcarried out. Lies!

In May 2000, Peter Tyack applied for a permit to test the LFAS on sperm whales off the Azores, from July 2000 on! Yet neither the wording of the request nor the permits granted by the NMFS specified that these tests were to include LFAS sound emissions.

In this document published on June 30, 2000 in the Federal Registry, Tyack asks for permission to “harass” various species of cetaceans in the North Atlantic [Azores] and in the Mediterranean Sea (essentially the Ligurian sea, very rich in common finbacks, various species of dolphins and sperm whales) “in the context of a study on the impact of noise on marine mammals.” The specifications stipulate that this harassment will be by way of sounds. No further precisions. No indications of the frequencies to be used, least of all any mention of low frequency sounds.

This application was submitted to the authorities while the general belief was that these tests had already been completed, amidst public outcry, at the time when the Hawaiian Greens were trying to bring the matter before the courts again. Dr. Tyack finagled with the dates and the formalities to achieve his purpose.

In August, the permit was granted by the NMFS for 5 years, allowing for more nuisance to the cetaceans than anything previously authorized in the 1998 tests! Tyack and the Federal authorities had cooperated to disguise the nature of the research and to carry out the tests far away from the U.S. coasts, away from whale-concerned environmentalists.

According to the official permit, Tyack had only one constraint to meet, i.e. to provide an annual report on the tests. This also curtails the access to information, thus preventing the opposition from interrupting the program. The WHOI, in this case acting as a true U.S. Navy accomplice -- even as its substitute --, have at their disposal ships very well equipped acoustically, capable of duplicating the LFAS both in frequency and in output. Dr. Tyack knows perfectly how to articulate various activity sectors while shielding them from wary public opinion and NGOs.

Strange coincidences

In May 1996, 12 Cuvier whales were found beached in the Kyparissiakos Gulf, on the Greekcoast. None could be saved. Dr. A. Frantzis, from the Athens University BiologyDepartment, noted in the “Nature” magazine that right at that time, a NATO ship was carrying out LFAS tests in the area. No such tests and, as it happens, no mass beaching had taken place in the Ionian Sea since1981. 

In the Fall of 1997, while the LFA experiments were proceeding in total secrecy off the Californian coast, three whales and one sperm whale were found dead in the test area.  

On March 15, 2000, in the Bahamas, Providence Channel: beaching of 6 mesodoplons (rare and little-known cetaceans). Shortly prior to this event, five Navy ships had conducted sound tests in the area, with medium-frequency sonar, much less powerful than the LFAS. Simultaneously, still in the Bahamas, other cetaceans were found beached a total of 17 of which 9 could not be saved. The post-mortem established that none of the dead animals had an empty stomach. None carried any chronic disease, tumor, or inflammation. None suffered from poisoning or wounds.

On the other hand, all had trauma-induced auditory problems. Some displayed ear hemorrhage, obvious sign of a powerful acoustic shock not caused by anexplosion (since there was no cranial fracture). The scientists suppose thatthe trauma threw the cetaceans off balance and disoriented them, causing them to beach and die on the sand —the death being caused by the beaching secondary to the shock. In a press conference held on May 10 in Washington,DC, the connection between these military tests and the beachings was officially acknowledged for the first time by three marine scientists, before a military expert and an environmental lawyer.

Around the Azores.

Last May, Tyack and Jonathan Gordon (another researcher involved in the LFA tests) toured the Azores. Their mission: to reassure the whale-watching tour operators (whale-watching is booming in this area) so that they could proceed unfettered with the upcoming tests.

According to them, the sound tests that were to be conducted off the Terceira Island, that houses a US base, would have no effect on the cetaceans. Nobody, with the exception of Bill Herbert and Wendy Thompson, two Anglos established in the Azores over ten years ago because of their love for the ocean and the cetaceans, had heard of the LFAS.

Bill and Wendy were practicing whale-conscious ecotourism from Faial, with great respect for the whales, dolphins and sperm whales that are aplenty in this archipelago, a true paradise for those who love cetaceans. Subjected to massive pressures, prosecuted in Court, they had to give up this activity,even though they were probably the only ones to practice it with a true concern for the animals’ well-being.

Sometimes ethics don’t pay&.

Bill and Wendy were contacted by Tyack and Gordon. The meeting roused the highest suspicions in our friends who readily understood that the two Americans had come to discuss with Dr. Ricardo Santos, of the Azores Fishing and Oceanographic Department (DOP), the issuing of a permit to perform tests in in Praia daVitoria, North Eastern Terceira. Santos is the only one who can grant such a permit. Yet here is Ricardo Santos’ reply to the email I sent him on Feb. 21, 01 inquiring about the issuance of this permit:

“Others have expressed to me their concern about this issue. So far as I know, to this day no permit has been issued allowing tests in the Azores region. No authorization was even applied for. Anyway, I know the interest of Peter Tyack and Jonathan Gordon for this experimental work. I discussed it with them in great detail. From these discussions, my scientific interpretation is that prior “controlled” tests should be performed to assess whether the LFAS could affect the behavior of marine mammals. It is already known that the US Navy and The French Navy have developed and used the LFAS.

I think that a civilian independent scientist should study this matter. From what I know, the Navy is not particularlyinterested in this research. They have a technology and they use it. I understand that there is quite an opposition from the NGOs about these tests. My position is that no civilian or political conditions allow for the implementation of such tests in the Azores. Such experiments could only bring political trouble to this region. Only Government authorities can grant this kind of authorization. Here at the University, we cannot grant it. Ours is purely an advisory role.”

This message that seems to be either a pack of lies or an incredible exercise in naiveté is worth looking into.

The “controlled” tests phrase is but a smoke screen to hide the real tests. The Navy is not particularly interested in the research?!? Ricardo Santos cannot ignore the obvious connection between the Navy and the WHOI.

According to Billand Wendy, Ricardo Santos could care less about the cetaceans. He is much more concerned with his political ambitions than with his scientific prerogatives. Contrary to what he states in this message, he is the only one who can grant research permits to the scientists who need them to approach and study the cetaceans of the Azores. He is also the only one who can impose sanctions for permit violations. In the Azores, the situation is complex and quite dependent on tourism, itself linked to the interests of the Azores University. It is quite difficult to manage such an intricate setup in which everybody tries to boost their own profit and reputation.

In the Mediterranean Sea

But the LFAS threat does exist. So far, very little info is filtering out. It seems that theTethys, an Italian Research Institute, is in touch with Tyack and Gordon, but for what purpose?

Fabrizio Borsani, for instance, who worked for Tethys a few years ago and conducted various studies in 1966 aimed at reducing the sound pollution caused by the boats used in ecotourism, is today a memberof Peter Tyack’s team [!].

This may not mean anything re: Tethys’position, although it can be of some concern when we see researchers previously known as environmentally-conscious change sides. Could the upcoming tests in the Mediterranean Sea be endorsed by some Italian scientists formerly known for protecting the cetaceans and having done ground-breaking work on their behalf?

Giovanni Bearzi, the young Director of the Tethys Institute,did actually use the LFA Internet site to express his reproof concerningTyack’s tests. But Jonathan Gordon and Robin Baird have done the same and they now work for Peter Tyack!

Fabrizio Borsani, presently researcher at the ICRAM, an organization close to Tethys, is organizing the 15th European Cetacean Society Annual Conference that will take place in Rome May 6-10. Its theme is:

“Marine protected areas and other approaches for the management of threats for marine mammals”. A burning topic.

This will be a golden opportunity for all the participants aware of the LFA danger to address the issue with Tethys scientists and other research outfits, so that we know how they position themselves and possibly dissuade them from falling forTyack’s permit game, if it is not too late. 

All this seems frightening and complicated?

Yes indeed, but it would be even more terrible to ignore it. And more and more of us are becoming aware of it. According to the calculations of Cheryl Magill, one of the foremost anti-LFA activists, the sound frequencies planned for the tests will fall within the 766 to 965Hz range, i.e. almost entirely within the low frequencies to which the cetaceans are highly sensitive. The sound intensity being 235-255 decibels at its emission point would fall to 180 decibels within a 2-km. radius. Below 180 decibels, there would be no harmful effect on the cetaceans & according to the Navy, although they acknowledge that 140 dB sounds have been registered 300 nautical miles away from the source. A human subjected to such wavelengths would become deaf in less than a minute. Studies have already proved that the cetaceans, all of them, avoid sounds of 115 dB and above. 180 dB may be deadly to these animals. 

At its peak, The LFA system will cover 80% of the oceans!!! 

Nobody can presently assess the consequences of this plague on the whales and dolphins of this world. What is certain is that they will not be minor, if we judge by the beachings that followed much less powerful tests. 

Many individuals and organizations are working on stopping the program. The Navy has been taken to Court five times, an Internet network and site (http://listen.to/lfas) facilitates the dissemination of information. It is the best way to put a spoke in the wheels of a tremendously powerful machine. Our presence at various levels, even in situ if possible, is our only recourse against Tyack and his confederates. 


-“The Tyack Permit,” article by Lanny [and not Larry!] Sinkin, attorney in Hilo, HI,

-“Sound Can Kill,” article by Mac Hawley for “The Green Scissors Coalition,: 12/1/2000;

-various posts on the Internet network “stopflas.” 

Brigitte Sifaoui

March 2001 



*PlanetPuna* |  Sirius HomePodners | WritingsProjects | Archives | E-mail us   

© 2000 by *PlanetPuna*, Sirius Institute & Sirius Connection 420
*All Rights Reserved to the Sources*
Updated March 22, 2001