The endangered blue whale is the largest mammal (they can be 98 feet long) ever known to have existed. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, blue whales, and many of them, could be found in almost all the earth’s oceans. Whalers hunted them almost to extinction and while they are now protected, they still face numerous threats.
One of these is noise pollution from the high-powered machinery that oil and gas companies use in conducting seismic surveys to locate buried oil and gas deposits. Seismic airgun testing, in which loud blasts are emitted every ten seconds 24 hours a day and often for weeks, has been linked to hearing damage, stress and even death in whales and other marine mammals including dolphins, turtles and fish. Blue whales in particular rely on vocalizations to help them navigate the waters, locate prey, identify other whales and communicate information (for alarms or mating, for instance).
The waters around Kangaroo Island off the southern coast of Australia have been called a blue whale hotspot, as this is one of the few sites in the world where blue whales return to feed (as they have for centuries). Improbably, Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, allowed the company Bright Petroleum to conduct seismic testing in these very waters.
Fortunately, at the end of May, Burke decided to call for further scrutiny about Bright Petroleum’s proposal to explore for oil and natural gas. Needless to say, such a decision is of huge significance to the welfare of the blue whales and other marine life — other whale and dolphin species, sea lions, sharks and tuna — in the waters off Kangaroo Island.
However, efforts to preserve this area must be ongoing. Bright Petroleum has submitted another proposal to conduct testing in the area, though this time it is following a process detailed by Australia’s Environment Department.
As Matthew Collins, marine campaign manager for the International Federation for Animal Welfare (IFAW) points out, there is more than sufficient reason to reject Bright Petroleum’s proposals to explore and, even more, to drill off Kangaroo Island. Collins urges the government to, in the future, “put thoughtful consideration into which areas they will release for exploration in future years” and avoid whale habitats altogether.
A huge thanks to Care2 members who signed the petition to save blue whales’s feeding grounds off Kangaroo Island! Please keep up the efforts to ensure that these waters are protected from harmful seismic testing as well as oil and gas drilling not only in the short term, but far into the future.
Photo via Mike Baird/Flickr