United States Navy Cancels Controversial Acoustic Tests Off New York and New Jersey Coasts

Environmentalists Had Charged that Navy Tests Could Have Hurt or Killed Whales and Other Sea Life

LOS ANGELES (May 25, 2000) - The United States Navy today abandoned long-standing plans to conduct extensive tests off the coast of New York and New Jersey in the wake of growing protest by NRDC and other environmental groups and increased scrutiny from federal regulators charged with administering the Endangered Species Act. Testing would have been done in an area about 90 nautical miles southeast of New York Harbor.

The tests, part of the Navy’s Littoral Warfare Advanced Development Program, involved the use of experimental low frequency sonar technology -- technology similar to a type that has previously been linked to the stranding of whales. The cancellation of the most recent LWAD tests follows closely on the stranding of over a dozen whales and other marine mammals in the Bahamas last March, an event coincident with an earlier series of LWAD tests and likely to have been caused by Naval acoustic activity. The New York/New Jersey battery of tests had been slated to begin earlier this week.

The Navy decided not to proceed after the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act, told the Navy that it would first have to formally consult with NMFS on the harm its tests might cause sperm whales, sea turtles, and other endangered marine species. NMFS’s action follows a series of letters by the Natural Resources Defense Council criticizing the LWAD Program as violating the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws

"We applaud the Fisheries Service decision to make the Navy finally start meeting its most basic of obligations under federal environmental law" said Joel Reynolds, director of NRDC’s marine mammals protection program. "In light of the recent tragedy in the Bahamas, the Navy needs to conduct a through review of the LWAD Program, and its acoustic technology more generally, before it proceeds with any other sea tests."

That view was echoed by the United States Marine Mammal Commission, which sent the Navy a letter on May 19, calling for a halt to the LWAD Program pending a thorough investigation into the Bahamian stranding.

"The Marine Mammal Commission couldn’t be more right," said Andrew Wetzler, senior project attorney with NRDC. "The Navy has a responsibility to ensure that when the Navy experiments with advanced acoustic technology in the oceans, it does not needlessly endanger whales, dolphins and other sea life."

Despite the cancellation of the New York/New Jersey sea tests, the Navy has given no indication that it plans on halting other LWAD tests scheduled for later this year. A third series of tests, about which very little is known, is slated for late September/early October. Environmentalists have vowed to oppose this series as well, unless the Navy complies with federal law.

"So far the Navy has failed to disclose even the most basic information about the third series of sea tests," Reynolds said. "We will continue to follow this matter closely and will oppose all further testing that may endanger whales and other marine life until the Navy thoroughly reviews its entire LWAD Program."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.