Sakhalin Energy, which is partly owned by Shell Oil, is planning to construct an oil platform near Sakhalin Island, Russia a place that is also habitat for critically endangered Western gray whales. If it is built, it would actually be their third oil platform there.
About 130 North Pacific gray whales use the waters near the island as their only known feeding ground, in the Sea of Okhotsk. This very small population of whales must feed properly in order to gain blubber for their long migration to the waters of southern Korea. (A separate much larger population migrates from Alaska to Baja.) Gray whale migrations can reach over 9,000 miles each way, and their journeys are considered the longest mammal migrations. According to the American Cetacean Society, it is believed they are the only whales to feed mainly on bottom dwelling creatures, so disturbances to their feeding ground waters, can damage their chances of survival. Their main feeding waters are also where mother gray whales teach their calves how to find food and eat.
“Just around 30 female Western gray whales of breeding age remain — the population is already on the brink of disappearing forever. The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population,” said Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF-Russia. (Source: sciencedaily.com)
The gray whale used to also live in the North Atlantic, but was hunted to extinction. Western gray whales were abundant, but Japanese fisherman started catching them in about 1570. More and more were hunted over the centuries and in the early 1900s, over 1,400 were caught during a two-decade period. By 1934 Western gray whales were near extinction.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers the Western gray whales to be critically endangered. They have written about their concern, saying “The waters off Sakhalin island are of particular significance to the conservation of the Western gray whale, as the only known feeding ground for this population lie in these waters. Whales only feed half of the year, in the summer, and stock energy and fat for their winter calving and mating season. Their primary feeding ground is therefore of major importance for the health and survival of the population. The area is also rich in oil and gas deposits, which have been explored and exploited during the last decade.” (Source: IUCN.org)
Image Credit: Jose Eugenio Gomez Rodriguez