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News | Feb. 4, 2008

Navy's Environmental Readiness Director Discusses Sonar and New Website

By Lt. Jennifer Cragg, Navy News Service; and Tracey Moriarty, Chief of Naval Operation Environmental Readiness Division Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division

The Environmental Director for the Chief of Naval Operations has spearheaded the creation of a new website to better educate and inform the public and Sailors on what the U.S. Navy is doing to protect the seas and its inhabitants during crucial training exercises. 

Rear Adm. Larry Rice, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division (N45), recently discussed why training with sonar is important and vital to national security.

"We cannot send our American Sailors and Marines into potential trouble spots around the world without adequate training to defend them," said Rice. "This is a national security issue, and we must use all methods available to ensure that arbitrary and excessive restrictions do not hamper our ability to train."

Rice added that the U.S. Navy has trained in Southern California for the past 40 years and they have had zero incidents with marine mammals--no strandings, no deaths, and no documented injuries. 

"We want to keep that up," added Rice. "In order to accomplish this, we have 29 protective measures that we already employ. The additional training restrictions that the court levied on us frankly don't help us take care of the environment--and it restricts our training."

Rice added that it is important for Sailors and citizens to know how small an impact Navy sonar has on the marine environment. 

As part of learning what type of impact the Navy is having, Rice encourages everyone to log onto the Navy's newest sonar website, which features information on whales, video clips, environmental stories, the Currents magazine and more. 

The web site is located at

Rice also added that it is important that people are aware of the many reasons for strandings.

For nations that track such events, worldwide naval use of active sonar has been correlated with the stranding of approximately 50 whales during the 10-year period from 1996-2006. 

"Contrast that with over 3,500 marine mammal 'normal' strandings that occur on U.S. shores annually, and 600,000 marine mammal deaths each year by commercial fishing interests," Rice said. "So, let's examine this: 600,000 are attributable to commercial fishing, over 3,500 a year are contributable to normal causes, and approximately five a year to sonar. And remember that in the last couple of years sonar-caused deaths have been zero."

Rice attributes the U.S. Navy's success with sonar to the fleet operators who are paying attention to what is going on in the world with marine mammals and sonar, and they realize that this is really important. The recent court case in Southern California only reaffirms its importance.

"Their actions directly influence their ship's training that will be following them. The folks that preceded the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group took precautions; they used the 29 protective measures, they ensured that our record of zero marine mammal incidents in Southern California was kept up. It's important that we keep that up so the training can continue," said Rice.

Rice added that one of the reasons for zero strandings associated with sonar is the result of continued U.S. Navy research. 

"The U.S. Navy funds $18 million a year in marine mammal research, including independent, peer-reviewed research conducted by Boston University, Duke University, University of Hawaii and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Research topics include sound effects on marine mammals," said Rice. 

While the U.S. Navy works hard to train in an environmentally responsible manner, submarine technology is improving and widely available to interested nations. More than 300 extremely quiet diesel electric submarines operate in 41 countries worldwide. These submarines are cheap, mass produced and readily available to any country that wants to pursue this technology.

Rice explained how difficult a job sonar technicians have when trying to pinpoint the sound of an extremely quiet submarine.

"As you know the ocean isn't like the atmosphere. The ocean is changing all of the time, whether it is the salinity, whether it is the density, whether it is the currents out there. It is a noisy place; not only are there submarines out there, but there is wave sound, rain sounds, there are other marine mammals, there are seismic sounds, earthquakes, volcanoes-a lot of sounds in the oceans, and they have to pick out that really quiet diesel electric submarine amongst all of those other sounds. That isn't something that we can simulate," said Rice. 

The U.S. Navy employs 29 protective measures to protect marine life when using mid-frequency active sonar during a major exercise or within established ranges or operating area. 

The measures include stationing trained lookouts, passive acoustics monitoring for marine mammals, employing night vision, establishing protective safety zones around ships, taking appropriate action when marine mammals are spotted, and employing extra precautions during chokepoint exercises. These measures were developed with-and are fully supported by-Federal environmental regulators, including the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

For more information about Navy's use of sonar and ocean stewardship, visit .