Subject: Sound Test-LFAS-Mass stranding (Nature paper) (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Fri, 6 Mar 1998 12:40:17 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1998 19:18:01 -0800
From: MARMAM Editors <marmamed@UVic.CA>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: LFAS-Mass stranding (Nature paper) (fwd)

From: "A. Frantzis" <>

Dear all,

Most of you are aware of the Low Frequency Active Sonars (LFAS) issue and
the dramatic impact this military project can cause on marine mammals.
During summer 1996, a two-month discussion regarding LFAS occured in
Marmam and Bioacoustics-L lists. I think that the following paper which
was published today (5 March 1998) in Nature (Scientific Correspondence)
can be of your interest. Below you can read the entire text (Nature's

As no aknowledgements exist for this kind of paper, I would like to
address my thanks to H. Whitehead, J. Potter and J.C. Goold. Their help
through advices, information and comments on the review of the manuscript
was really precious. I would also like to thank D. Ketten, J. Mead, M.
Simmonds and all others who contributed through Marmam and Bioacoustics-L.

I close this message hoping that the following article could be a "useful
tool"  in the hands of specialists who are discussing with the US navy, in
order to convince them to stop their dangerous games.


        Mass strandings of live whales have been explained by proposing
many 'natural' or human related factors. I found that a recent stranding
of Cuvier's beaked whales coincided closely in time and location with
military tests of an acoustic system for submarine detection that were
being carried out by the North Atlantic Treaty Org anization (NATO).

        Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) seems to be abundant
in the East Ionian Sea (Mediterranean Sea), as indicated by strandings and
sightings, record ed there from 1992 to 1997. This species is a
deep-diving pelagic cetaceans that rarely mass strands; only seven cases
of more than four individuals have been recorded since 1963 worldwide ---
the individuals on these occasions numbering 5, 6, 6, 10, 12, 15, and 19
respectively. In the Kyparissiakos Gulf specifically, the average number
of indi vidual whales stranded every half-year is 0.7 (sd=0.9, n=11), with
the exception of a mass stranding that occured on 12-13 May 1996.

        From the morning of the 12 until the afternoon of the 13 May 1996,
were corded 12 Cuvier's beaked whales stranded alive along the coasts of
Kyparissiakos Gulf. The whales were spread along 38.2 kilometres of coast
and were separated by a mean distance of 3.5 km (sd=2.8, n=11). This
spread in time and location was atypical , as usually whales mass strand
at the same place and at the same time. And two weeks later, one more
animal was found decomposing on a remote beach of the neighbouring
Zakynthos Island, 57 km away from the closest stranding on the mainland.

        Necropsies of eight stranded animals were carried out, but no
apparent abnormalities or wounds were found. Many of the stomach contents
that were colle cted contained cephalopod flesh, indicating that recent
feeding had taken place.

        After looking for possible causes of the mass stranding, we
discovered that 'sound-detecting system trials' had been performed by the
NATO research vessel Alliance, from 24:00 11 May to 24:00 15 May 1996
(Warning to mariners 586 of 199 6, Hellenic Navy Hydrographic Service) ---
a period that encompassed the mass stran ding.  Also, the officially
declared area where the sea trials had been carried out enclosed all the
coordinates of the stranding points.

        The tests that RV Alliance performed were for Low Frequency Active
Sonar (LFAS), a system for the detection of quiet diesel and nuclear
submarines.  This system generates extremely loud, low frequency sound
(maximum output >=230 dB re 1 micropascal, broadband waveforms centered at
frequences which range from 250 to 3000 hertz), which enables long
detection ranges. Research on LFAS began in 1981 and a statement on its
environmental impact was formally initiated in July 1996 by the US navy.
The adverse effects of low frequency sound on whales are poorly studied, b
ut many specialists warn that at high levels, as occurs with LFAS, they
could be dr amatic.

        The proximity of military manoeuvres has been suspected of causing
three previous atypical mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales, spread
over wide areas of the Canary Islands. On most of the extremely rare
occasions that mass strandings are seen in this species, they show
characteristics unlike those that occur with oth er whales.  This suggests
that the cause has a large synchronous spatial extent and a sudden onset.
Such characteristics are shown by sound in the ocean. Also deep-diving
whales seem to be especially affected by low-frequency sounds, even at
quite low receiv ed levels. We know that LFAS was used in Kyparissiakos
Gulf. We also know that no other LFAS tests or mass strandings have
occured in the Greek Ionian Sea, since 1981.  Taking the past 16.5-year
period into account, the probability of a mass strandi ng occuring for
other reasons, during the period of the LFAS tests is less than 0.0 7%.
Although pure coincidence cannot be excluded, it seems improbable that the
two e vents were independent. Little is known about whales' reactions to
LFAS to obtain defi nitive answers. More information needs to be gathered.
but unfortunately, most of the d ata about the use of LFAS are subject to
military secrecy.

(References have been omitted. Please see Nature)

A. Frantzis
Zoological Laboratory
Department of Biology
University of Athens
5784 Athens, Greece


Dr. Alexandros Frantzis                    Personal address:
Zoological Laboratory                       Terpsichoris 21
Dept. of Biology                                16671 VOULIAGMENI
University of Athens                          GREECE
Panepistimioupolis                             tel : ++301 /8962730
GR-157 84 ATHENS                        fax : ++301 /8960108
e-mail :
tel : ++301 / 7284634
fax : ++301 / 7284604
-To submit a message to MARMAM, send it to:
-Please include your name and e-mail address in the body of the
text of all submissions, and ensure your message has a subject
-To subscribe to MARMAM, send a message to:
saying: subscribe marmam Yourfirstname Yourlastname
-To contact the MARMAM editors, write to: