The dreaded day has arrived – another whale hot spot under threat

A humpback whale swims in the foreground, and a half-sunken ship sits in the background.After nearly 18 months of worry, on Monday 15th October Bight Petroleum Pty Ltd (an Australian subsidiary of Canadian Bight Petroleum Corp), submitted their referral to begin oil and gas exploration off the coast of Kangaroo Island, SA.  Bizarrely, not that long ago, the Australian Government deemed the area to be so special that it was under consideration for protection as a marine protected area. 

Yet, the Kangaroo Island Canyons and Pool where Bight Petroleum intends to carry out seismic testing are a very special place.  It is here that strong upwellings bring nutrient-rich foods such as krill to the surface and so the area is literally brimming with marine life; southern right whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, hundreds of common and dusky dolphins, Australian sea lions, huge shoals of fish and seabirds. In fact, these waters form part of one of only three known feeding hotspots for blue whales in Australian waters.

If the possible destruction of this pristine marine environment doesn’t make your blood boil, let’s think for one moment about the threatened livelihoods on Kangaroo Island.  The Island community is heavily reliant on this rich biodiversity not only for tourism, but also their local fisheries depend on it – their way of life is under threat thanks to this insatiable appetite for more oil.  The risks the come along with seismic testing and the threat of future oil spills are very real to the local Kangaroo Island people and the marine life around the island.

In the case of blue whales, it is thought there were some 200,000 in the southern hemisphere before whaling began over 100 years ago.  By the 1960s, blue whales had been hunted to the brink of extinction and the population is still dangerously low, with only a few thousand alive today. The threats posed by oil and gas development in this essential feeding spot cannot be underestimated.

Bight tells us that they don’t expect to encounter whales or dolphins during the 70 day seismic testing period, although they will be operating 24 hours a day, blasting air guns every 11 seconds]. Yet, limited science tells us that this area is highly productive and supports an overwhelming number of marine species, which it would be impossible to avoid. More and extensive research is needed before this area is destroyed irreparably.  

Only then will we start to understand the true importance of this area.

It seems that allowing oil and gas development to go ahead without first carrying out a full assessment of how, when and which species rely on these waters is both environmentally reckless and irresponsible.

It is for these reasons that the International Fund for Animal Welfare calls on the Government to reconsider allowing oil and gas exploration to go ahead in these waters – we really believe some areas are just too special to be opened up to industrial activities. 

If you do to, we strongly urge you to register your concerns with the Environment Minister, Tony Burke. We’ve made it easy, simply visit www.ifaw.org/protect-kangaroo-island, but hurry up you only have until midnight on 28th October to make your voice heard

What concerns me the most is that we may find out how truly important this area is for whales and dolphins when it is already too late…

--SL

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Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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