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Diver suffers pain from Navy sonar tests

Guest commentary

I am a Professional Association of Dive Instructors dive master. I worked in Monterey at Aquarius Dive Shops during the mid-1990s. I used to take people on dive tours of our area. I’m still a registered divemaster, but on Aug. 25, 1994, while on a dive off Point Lobos with friends, I was exposed to a new, very unusual sound.It sounded like a low frequency “boom box.” The sounds were short pulses about one second long, repeated every five to 10 seconds. I could actually feel my lungs vibrating from each pulse. I immediately surfaced to see if any vessels might be in the area. I saw none.

Navy Sonar

Within a few days, a friend and I made an underwater videotape that our Naval Postgraduate School analyzed. They said I had captured the sound but they didn’t know the source. They said they called Washington and were told officials there said they didn’t know what was going on.

NPS said the sound could be coming from either oil and gas exploration, Navy fleet operations beyond the horizon, or oceanographic research. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary officials also suggested they had no idea of the source.

Then, one person at the Washington office of the National Marine Fisheries Service said that what we had been exposed to was a “classified government test.” We laughed at that point. How could it be classified if scuba divers were exiting the water complaining of weird sounds that made our lungs vibrate?

Many divers reported the sounds. These events were broadcast
over all the local and major national TV newscasts. About a month into the experiment, I went on a dive trip with the owners of Aquarius and several friends to Fiji, 5,000 miles away. Sure enough, the same sounds, only fainter. I recorded them.When this data was presented to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, I was finally told what was going on. The name of the experiment was the Magellan 2 Sea Trials. It was being conducted northwest of the Farallon Islands about 150 to 300 miles to the north. It was called Magellan because it’s the “sound heard around the world.”

The surface vessel Cory Chouest lowers an array of 18 car-sized transducers into the depths and transmits sounds as loud as a Saturn 5 moon rocket all the way across ocean basins. When the Cory Chouest first tested the system, it went to the southern Indian Ocean and conducted the Heard Island Feasibility Test.

Here in Monterey Bay, scientists lowered listening devices to see if they could detect the 57 Hz sounds. Sure enough, they had traversed the Indian Ocean and then traveled across the entire Pacific Ocean to be received here. The same transmissions were received in Bermuda.

The technology has been developed to hunt for quiet diesel electric submarines that some rogue states like North Korea and Iran possess. Basically, the louder the blasts of sounds, the further their sonar system will detect threat vessels. And, like a boom box in a car, the lower the frequency/tone, the further the transmissions go.

Our Navy has conducted an environmental impact report on the sonar system. It’s called Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS). It steadfastly refuses to acknowledge it was responsible for the diver disruption issues in the Pacific Ocean during Magellan 2. They say the recordings I possess must be some problem with my breathing apparatus.

In the years between then and now, it has been found that “standard” Navy sonar, which has been used for decades on the bows of our warships, causes acoustic trauma in marine mammals, causing them to strand and die.

The impact of the sonar blasts on marine life ruptures ear cavities and other air spaces. It also has been postulated that the animals are being scared into surfacing too fast and they suffer a malady similar to the bends in divers. There have been many instances when Navy sonar operations are directly linked to these stranding events.

As it turns out, I and a boatload of paying customers went on a dive off Hawaii in 1997, where we were exposed to this type of midfrequency (3,000 Hz) sonar. All the divers heard it. That was my last recreational dive.

There are other military systems operations that use sound to send communications to submerged vessels.

The Supreme Court has now sanctioned the testing as critical for national security. While I am not opposed to a strong military, I am against use of technology that disregards the other inhabitants of earth. We have no right to expose all living things in our oceans to these signals, which are known to harm and kill.

Sonar Effect On Whales

I feel the court has made a serious mistake in allowing humans to degrade the oceanic environment. If the justices hopped in the water with the technology at full power, they would change their minds. If they survived.

Jay Murray lives in Carmel Valley. He may be reached at