Blue Whales Get Bad Vibes From Oil and Gas Leases

Monday, May 14, 2012
Sydney, Australia

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) is calling for critical blue whale habitat to be withdrawn from the acreage list released to the oil and gas industry in today’s announcement by Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson.

At the APPEA conference today Minister Ferguson released vast offshore areas in the Bonney Upwelling region in southern Australia, exposing one of only three blue whale feeding grounds in Australia to petroleum exploration involving the use of seismic airguns*.

“Still recovering from near extinction, blue whales need our protection now more than ever. First it was harpoons and now the few that are left will have to face deafening noise from seismic airguns in a desperate bid to feed,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW Campaigner.

“The government itself states the blue whales that inhabit the Bonney Upwelling feeding grounds “should be regarded as key groups that should be carefully protected”,” Mr Collis said.

“We urge Minister Ferguson to demonstrate that his government is not willing to sacrifice unique, internationally significant areas to the commercial oil and gas leviathans.”

The Bonney Upwelling area is not the only area in the 2012 acreage release important to whales. There are more lease areas in the Great Australian Bight where numerous whale and dolphin species can be found including blue, southern right and sperm whales, and areas around Browse Island where up to 15 different species have been found. This acreage release continues the worrying trend in recent years of the expansion of oil and gas leases over important whale and dolphin habitat.

“It appears nowhere is off limits to oil and gas companies and this is going unquestioned both publicly and within government,” Mr Collis said.

The Department of Resources’ petroleum acreage release process involves rounds of shortlisting, bidding and finally the granting of leases to the winning companies. The process is not open to public scrutiny and is allowing the relentless expansion of industry over important whale habitat all around Australia.

“It’s no good saying people can have their say once these areas have been handed over to oil companies. There needs to be a debate about whether these areas are handed out at all. The Environment Department needs to be involved at a much earlier stage and be an advocate for whale protection,” Mr Collis said.

Briefing notes available.

*Seismic surveys are an exploration technique that uses the controlled release of compressed air to make sound waves that travel into the seabed and reflect back from rock layers under the sea floor to show likely deposits of oil and gas. Surveys generally take place over several weeks or months depending on the size of the area and can involve up to thousands of square kilometres of ocean at a time. Surveys are usually conducted using air gun arrays – collections of multiple airguns (up to 48 individual air guns) which simultaneously release blasts of intense sound energy into the water every few seconds on a continuous basis. At source, air gun sound pressure intensity can be between 230 – 255 decibels and the sound frequency produced is low, usually below 200 Hz, overlapping with hearing and communication frequencies of large baleen whales such as blue whales, humpback whales and southern right whales. Sound travels further in water than air and sound from seismic surveys can travel tens and even hundreds of kilometres.

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