NOAA 99-069
Contact: Gordon Helm


The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking comment on a request by the U.S. Navy to operate its Low Frequency Active Sonar on the world's open oceans. The Navy's Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active Sonar uses an underwater sound source to locate submarines, and the agency wants to ensure the operation of the system has a negligible impact on marine mammals.

NOAA Fisheries will consider these comments before making its determination on whether to grant the Navy a "small take exemption" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The exemption would allow the Navy permission to "harass" or disturb whales, dolphins or other marine mammals during its operation of the sonar for up to five years, if the agency determines that the SURTASS LFA sonar's effect on marine animals will be negligible.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act allows the incidental disturbance, called a take, of small numbers of marine mammals. However, NOAA Fisheries must determine, based on the best science available, that these takings will have no more than a negligible impact on the affected species and stocks of marine mammals, will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species or stock(s) for subsistence uses, and regulations are prescribed setting forth the permissible methods of taking and the requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.

The SURTASS LFA sonar system is a long-range, low-frequency sonar that has both active and passive components. The Navy will operate a maximum of four ship systems in the world's open oceans, (it will not operate in coastal waters or polar seas). There would be a maximum of four SURTASS LFA sonar systems, with a maximum of two systems at sea at any one time.

The U.S. Navy has compiled a wide array of information about the SURTASS LFA sonar system which is available on the Internet at: or by contacting Mr. J.S. Johnson, SURTASS-LFA Sonar Program Manager, 901 North Stewart Street, Suite 708, Arlington, VA 22203. In addition, the U.S. Navy has released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the deployment of the SURTASS LFA sonar system, also available at the above address.

NOAA Fisheries will be accepting comments on the application through Nov. 22, 1999. If it proposes regulations governing the taking, interested parties will be provided an additional comment period on the content of the proposed rule. Comments should be addressed to Donna Wieting, Chief, Marine Mammal Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. A copy of the application may be obtained by contacting the same office.