Mitigating environmental impacts of naval sonar
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of St Andrews
Unit of AssessmentBiological Sciences
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Biological Sciences: Ecology
Summary of the impact
Research by St Andrews scientists studying the effects of naval Sonar on
marine mammals has had the following international impacts:
on the environment by developing new ways to manage
environmental risks of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals,
on public policy and defence as research evidence changed US
and European policy and criteria on impacts of Sonar on marine mammals,
allowing US and European Navies to continue sonar training with reduced
risk to whales,
on commerce as a new product with a current sales value of £3.5
million has been commercialised to help navies to predict and manage
risk to marine mammals.
Marine mammals are difficult to study as they spend most of their lives
underwater, often travel large distances in 3 dimensions and frequently
have low population densities. St Andrews researchers at the Sea Mammal
Research Unit (SMRU) including Professors Ian Boyd, Phil Hammond, John
Harwood & Peter Tyack and Dr Patrick Miller have
developed methods to overcome these difficulties, allowing research to
evaluate the impact of threats such as anthropogenic sound on wildlife
populations. They developed a theoretical approach to environmental risk
assessment that involves identifying hazards, probability of exposure to
the hazard, estimating the effects produced by different levels of
exposure, and evaluating the benefits of different strategies to manage
the risk . The ability to estimate exposure to the hazard was
enabled by the improvement at St Andrews of survey methods, generally
involving visual identification, to estimate marine mammal population
density and distribution . A second crucial development in 2009
was the application of passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) to estimate the
distribution and abundance of marine mammals . This overcame
the limitations of previous methods of visual identification for species
that spend most of their lives underwater.
In 2004, St Andrews scientists articulated a new methodology designed to
allow measurement of the effects of different levels of sound exposure on
a marine mammal for the first time , providing critical data to
establish acoustic dose: behavioural response functions in the field.
Using these methods, SMRU led major field experiments in 2007-08 to
quantify effects of naval sonar on beaked whales. The major documented
lethal effect of underwater sound on marine mammals has involved mass
strandings of beaked whales during naval sonar exercises .
Therefore beaked whales formed a critical subject species for these
experiments. Their cryptic deep-diving lifestyle necessitated the use of
tags to record sound exposure and behavioural responses of individual
animals throughout their dive cycle. Free-ranging beaked whales were
exposed to simulated sonar sounds of US Navy anti-submarine sonars and the
behaviour of the animals was measured against a carefully titrated dose of
sound. Responses of beaked whales to simulated sonar were observed at
exposure levels of about 140 dB re 1 µPa .
These research methods have been extended to study the behavioural
responses of other marine mammal species. Miller and Tyack
are co-PIs of an experiment called 3S to determine the dose- response of
several whale species in Norwegian waters to sonars deployed by the Dutch
and Norwegian navies. This project used advanced physiological models to
analyse dive responses of tagged whales of several species during
controlled exposure experiments, allowing for the first time estimates of
the risk of decompression sickness for whales exposed to sonar .
References to the research
St Andrews contributors in BOLD. Employment dates in St Andrews:
Professor Boyd 2001-present; Professor Hammond 1996-present; Professor
Harwood 1996-present; Dr Marques 2007-present; Dr Thomas 1997-present; Dr
Miller 2002-present; Dr Thompson 1996-present; Professor Tyack
SMRU in St Andrews has published 546 papers in this area in the period
1996-2013, with over 10,000 citations (Scopus), of which the following are
a representative cross-section with application to this impact. These are
all published in international, peer-reviewed journals.
 Harwood, J. (2000) Risk assessment and decision analysis in
conservation. Biological Conservation 95: 219-226 DOI:
10.1016/S0006-3207(00)00036-7. (46 citations).
 Hammond, PS, Berggren, P, Benke, H, Borchers, DL, Collet, A,
Heide-Jørgensen, MP, Heimlich, S, Hiby, AR, Leopold, MF & Øien, N
(2002). Abundance of harbour porpoises and other cetaceans in the North
Sea and adjacent waters. Journal of Applied Ecology 39: 361-376. DOI:
10.1046/j.1365-2664.2002.00713.x (130 citations).
 Marques TA, Thomas L, Ward J, DiMarzio N, Tyack PL. (2009)
Estimating cetacean population density using fixed passive acoustic
sensors: An example with Blainville's beaked whales. Journal of the
Acoustical Society of America 125:1982-1994. DOI:
10.1121/1.3089590 (48 citations).
 Tyack P, Gordon J, Thompson D. (2004) Controlled
exposure experiments to determine the effects of noise on large marine
mammals. Marine Technology Society Journal 37(4):41-53 DOI:
10.4031/002533203787537087 (10 citations).
 Tyack PL Zimmer WMX, Moretti D, Southall BL, Claridge DE,
Durban JW, Clark CW, D'Amico A, DiMarzio N, Jarvis S, McCarthy E,
Morrissey R, Ward J, Boyd IL (2011) Beaked Whales Respond to
Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar. PLOS ONE 6: e17009 DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0017009 (30 citations).
 Kvadsheim PH, Miller PJO, Tyack PL, Sivle LD, Lam FPA,
Fahlman A. (2012) Estimated tissue and blood N2 levels and risk
of in vivo bubble formation in deep-, intermediate- and shallow diving
toothed whales during exposure to naval sonar. Frontiers in Aquatic
Physiology 3(125):1-14. DOI:
10.3389/fphys.2012.00125 (3 citations).
Details of the impact
Impacts derived from the underpinning research include the removal of
obstacles to naval training in anti-submarine warfare whilst reducing risk
to whales and supporting development of a commercial product to manage
risk of sounds from naval activities.
Enabling US Navy Sonar Operations whilst protecting marine mammals.
Evidence that Sonar can lead to lethal strandings of whales led to
legislative and judicial restrictions on military sonar use. From
2001-2008, courts in the US repeatedly judged that the US Navy had not
conducted adequate environmental reviews. The courts issued injunctions
limiting the use of Sonar, which interfered with the navy's ability to
train for anti-submarine warfare and to maintain readiness against
submarine attacks [S4].
In 2008 a court case involving naval Sonar training in Southern
California waters was heard by the US Supreme Court [S5]. After
these legal actions, the Navy committed to prepare Environmental Impact
Statements (EIS) for Sonar use. The St Andrews research on the
distribution of beaked whales and effects of exposure to anthropogenic
noise made it possible to estimate the inherent risks. As the Deputy
Assistant Secretary of the Navy (DASN) stated in 2013,
"(St Andrews) research assessing exposure and effects of sonar for
beaked and other whales has provided the scientific bases for
Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for US Navy training and testing
These Environmental Impact Statements were approved by the regulator in
the years following 2008, allowing the US Navy to operate naval sonars.
"The results of the research conducted by the St Andrews faculty and
staff have played a vital role in the deliberations of the US Navy and
the Navy's regulator, the National Marine Fisheries Service, to
establish new behavioural risk criteria for anthropogenic sound exposure
risk to beaked whales and other marine mammals" [S1]
Subsequent to the demonstration that beaked whales show strong responses
to Sonar at levels of 140 dB re 1 µPa (reference 5 above), the US Navy
modified its response criterion for beaked whales to this lower level to
reduce the risks of exposure to harmful sound [S6]. In the period
2008-12 there have been no documented cases of mass strandings linked to
US Navy Sonar [S7].
Mitigating the environmental harm caused by EU Navy Sonar
The St Andrews research has also had a direct impact on the operational
practices of several European Navies. Uncertainty as to what exposures are
risky, and lack of adequate monitoring and mitigation methods led the
European Parliament to pass a resolution in 2004 calling for a moratorium
on the use of intense naval sonar until this problem was resolved (EU
resolution 86-0089/2004). The European Union Marine Strategy
Framework Directive (MSFD), adopted in 2008, requires each member state to
achieve good environmental status of their marine habitats, including the
requirement that "introduction of energy (including underwater noise)
does not adversely affect the ecosystem." [S8]. The Head of
Marine Advice for the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee
"Particularly important St Andrews studies include those involving
Patrick Miller, Ian Boyd and Peter Tyack demonstrated the reaction of
whales to these underwater sounds ... may lead to lethal physiological
effects. This understanding has been crucial in the setting of policies
by a number of Navies that will reduce the risk of further deaths. The
research has also been important in gaining perspectives that have
avoided over-regulation." [S2]
A Navy cannot be effective without the use of Sonar. Since the operation
of Sonar is an unavoidable activity, UK regulations require monitoring of
marine mammals within a danger zone by Naval vessels. St Andrews research
on marine mammal distribution allows predictions about animal densities in
different areas around the globe to be made. This underpinning St Andrews
science has led to the development of an established product: Statistical
Algorithms for Estimating the Sonar Influence on Marine Megafauna
(SAFESIMM) [S9]. SAFESIMM models marine mammal distribution and
abundance, dive and movement behaviour, and sensitivity to sound and has
been licensed to BAE Systems, which uses it as part of its Marine
Environmental Risk Management Capability. SAFESIMM forms part of the 2117
sonar used by the Royal Navy for planning sonar exercises and used by
commanders to judge the level of risk associated with planned Sonar
operations. If the risk is too high the tool presents a series of
mitigation activities that can be used to reduce the level of risk and
meet the requirements of UK and EU legislation. The Commercial Manager of
Combat Systems for BAE Systems Maritime estimates the value of SAFESIMM on
BAE sales to be "of the order of £3.5 million based on the current
contract value". [S3]
In the words of the Head of Marine Advice for the UK Joint Nature
"St Andrews researchers have developed techniques for establishing the
presence of marine mammals in an area using passive monitoring for
underwater sounds made by the mammals. These techniques are now part of
standard mitigation (...) during naval exercises in UK and some other EU
Sources to corroborate the impact
[S1] Letter from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Navy
(Environment). Corroborates impact of St Andrews research on Navy's
ability to use Sonar.
[S2] Letter from Head of Marine Advice for the Joint Nature
Conservation Committee. Corroborates impact of St Andrews research on
standard mitigation during naval exercises internationally.
[S3] Email from the Commercial Manager, combat systems, BAE
Systems Maritime — Naval Ships. Corroborates value of SAFESIMM contracts.
[S4] US Court injunction against the use of Sonar due to threats
to marine mammals.
[S5] US court case on naval Sonar in Californian waters. Winter v.
Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. (2008). http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/555/07-1239
[S6] (2012) Criteria and Thresholds for U.S. Navy Acoustic and
Explosive Effects Analysis. US NAVY SSC Pacific Technical Report.
Corroborates change in Navy policy in response to known risk to marine
[S7] Marine Mammal Strandings Associated with U.S. Navy Sonar
Activities (2012). Corroborates no known strandings linked to naval Sonar
[S8] Report from the Commission to the Council and the European
Parliament. Contribution of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
(2008/56/EC) to the implementation of existing obligations, commitments
and initiatives of the Member States or the EU at EU or international
level in the sphere of environmental protection in marine waters.
COM(2012) 662 final.
[S9] SAFESIMM product described in