Just six months after the US Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management (BOEM) denied six pending permit applications for seismic testing along the US east coast, the Trump Administration has issued five draft permits for seismic testing in these same waters. As seismic surveys are used to search for deposits of fossil fuels, the long term risks of these efforts leave both marine mammals and coastal communities at risk for future oil spills.
The loud pulsing sounds created by seismic surveys are emitted every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, and are known to harass, harm, and even kill whales and dolphins. Of particular concern is the risk to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, a species already facing significant impacts from entanglements in fishing gear and ship strikes. Research shows that man-made noise increases stress hormones in right whales which can impact their ability to reproduce and lower their immune systems.
Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain. This imperiled species lives only along the east coast of the US and Canada with the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina serving as their single known calving habitat.
Emerging research underscores the critical role North Atlantic right whales play in the ecosystem by supplying nutrients to phytoplankton, which produces most of the world’s oxygen and is the base on which fish stocks depend. Furthermore, the long term impacts from potential oil spills must not be dismissed. Research after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill estimated that the true death toll to whales and dolphins could be 50 times greater than the number of animals found.
According to Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC NA executive director, “This news is devastating and short sighted. Marine mammals play a critical role in the ecosystem by providing us with oxygen, sustainable fish stocks, and a means to combat climate change. We need healthy whale and dolphin populations for a healthy planet.”