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Interior Department Endorses Seismic Tests That Will Likely Deafen Hundreds of Dolphins and Whales

The use of seismic blasts of air underwater to search for oil and gas deposits threatens millions of marine animals.



A new report from the Interior Department endorses tests in the Atlantic Ocean that would use seismic air-guns to search for oil and gas deposits – a first step to resuming offshore drilling in U.S. waters.


The tests would use sonar driven by high-pressure and extremely loud underwater blasts of air – 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine – to survey coasts spanning from Delaware to Florida. The blasts would go off every 10 seconds for days or weeks.


Environmental groups and more than 50 members of Congress oppose the tests and the harm they could cause to marine life, such as deafening dolphins and whales that use their hearing to hunt, and driving fish from the region.


An estimated 138,500 dolphins, sea turtles, and whales could be injured, and 13.6 million marine animals could suffer disruptions to their regular behavior, such as migration and feeding, the report states. It also includes some provisions for the protection of marine life, but environmental groups do not think these go far enough.


Communities along the coast are also coming together to officially oppose the testing, stating additional concerns about the impact of the tests on tourism and fisheries.


“Because of the enormous distances sound can travel in the ocean, the dangerous noise from this activity cannot remotely be confined to the waters off individual states that encourage it,” states Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog post.  “Some impacts -- particularly on the great baleen whales -- would extend many hundreds of miles, affecting states as far north as New England.  Fish and fisheries could be affected for tens of miles around every seismic ship.”


Nonprofit Oceana gathered signatures from over 100 scientists, asking the government to hold off on the tests until the National Marine Fisheries Service releases new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals. These forthcoming guidelines would shed light on how manmade sound affects marine mammals.


Oceana also points to cases where similar seismic testing may have caused dolphin deaths in Peru and whale stranding in Madagascar.


So far, the industry has submitted nine applications for permits to conduct the tests. There is a current ban on offshore drilling until 2017.


The test area could hold around “3.3 million barrels of oil and 3.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though the calculations were based on outdated technology,” an Interior official told the Wall Street Journal. New testing could uncover unknown deposits of oil and gas, and better detect what’s there.



What You Can Do:

  • Petition Obama and the Interior Department to stop the tests
  • Sign a petition to oppose the testing
  • Support this petition to help endangered belugas
  • Watch this Share this video about Seismic Testing and its effect on marine life: