IWDG express concern about NATO Operation Steadfast Jaguar in Cape Verde

22nd May 2006 The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) have recently learnt that NATO intend to use a range of active sonar systems during their forthcoming training exercise Steadfast Jaguar in the Cape Verde Islands.

There has been considerable concern over the impact of Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) on cetaceans from marine mammal experts from around the world including North America and Europe. In addition, there is considerable evidence that active sonar systems, particularly mid-frequency ones, have been a major factor in the mass stranding of cetaceans, including the poorly understood and rarely seen, beaked whales. Recent pathological evidence suggests these deep diving species may suffer air embolisms or “the bends” due to rapid surfacing after reacting to strong acoustic sources, such as active sonars.

The US Navy admitted the potential of mid-frequency active sonars to kill marine mammals after a mass stranding event in the Bahamas during a NATO exercise in 2000, while LFAS has been the subject of numerous court cases in the US, with US judges ruling against the deployment and use of LFAS on a number of occasions.

As a volcanic archipelago, the seabed around the Cape Verde Islands slope steeply away into great depths. The islands are surrounded by deep-water canyons and shelf slopes which are a prime habitat for beaked whale species. Recent modeling data also suggest that the Cape Verde Islands may be important habitat for a number of beaked whale species.

The IWDG have recently returned from their second expedition to the Cape Verde Islands. The primary objective of both expeditions was to obtain fluke images of humpback whales in order to locate the feeding grounds of the Cape Verde breeding population. It is the opinion of the IWDG, that Cape Verde might be the breeding ground of the humpback whales being observed, with increasing frequency, in Irish waters.

The IWDG have a long-term interest in the ecology and conservation of cetaceans in Cape Verde Islands and are concerned over the possible impacts of Steadfast Jaguar. The IWDG call on NATO to ensure that there is no impact of their sonar systems, particularly LFAS and mid-frequency ones, and other military equipment on marine mammals around Cape Verde during this operation. The IWDG will work together with local groups in Cape Verde to monitor for any effects of this exercise on marine mammals during and after the forthcoming NATO exercises.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Steadfast Jaguar website: www.nato.int/shape/issues/shape_nrf/steadfast_jaguar.htm

Statement from Ian Bailey, Lt UK N, PIO, JFC HQ Brunssum on 11 May 2006

NATO takes the impact of any of its operations on the environment and wildlife very seriously. Consequently, the Alliance has developed a general policy for military principles and policies for Environmental Protection. This doctrine establishes the mandatory integration of environmental risk management at the initial stages of the planning process for operations and exercises. Furthermore, NATO requires that the co-operating host nation's environmental laws be respected during all NATO operations and exercises.

During the extensive planning process for the NATO Response Force Live Exercise, Steadfast Jaguar 06 (SFJR06) in Cape Verde, all of these guidelines have been utilized to ensure that both the national and NATO requirements for the protection of cetaceans are met.

Naval units participating in SFJR 06 are fitted with the usual variety of sonar military systems, both passive and active, and ranging from low to high frequencies. All these systems will be subject to restrictions during this exercise in accordance with NATO and Cape Verdian guidelines.

Cognizant of concerns from environmental protection institutions regarding possible risks to marine life produced by sonar transmission, NATO recently created a Specialist Team on Maritime Mammal Protection at its Headquarters in Brussels. The Team will