Why is your government ignoring science?

The “Song of the Whale” IFAW’s research vessel at sea.Picture this – a region of incredible social, cultural and ecological values, an unspoilt and serenely beautiful area with spectacular red cliffs and sparkling azure waters.

A place literally brimming with life; dugongs, dolphins, coral reefs, seagrasses and where every year from June to October, humpback whales migrate to mate and calve undisturbed and sheltered by the many islands and reefs of the area.

You might assume an area of this description would be one of Australia’s recently declared marine reserves, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

This is James Price Point (JPP), the site recently approved for the Browse Liquid Nitrogen Gas precinct development, following a heavily criticised and flawed assessment by the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

The EPA reported that the gas hub would not cause significant impacts to whales and that the JPP area is not part of the main calving ground, estimating that around 1000 whales would pass within 8km of the development each year.

But real science suggests otherwise. This week, the Kimberley Community Whale Research Project released the results of their 2012 research season and the findings are outstanding. During their land-based survey they recorded 2,669 individual humpback whales, including 172 cow-calf pairs.

This means that between 12,108 and 15,876 whales passed within 8km of the JPP shoreline during the 2012 migration season.

Surely whale numbers like these cannot be ignored?

Now picture whale hotspot no.2 – an extensive upwelling area of nutrient-rich waters that attracts huge numbers of blue whales, sea lions, sharks, fish, seabirds and dolphins to feed during the summer months.

The Bonney Upwelling, between South Australia and Victoria, literally brims with marine life and the variety of whales and dolphins found in this area is immense.

Last year, the Blue Whale Study reported a sighting of 20 blue whales in November and then a group of  70 blue whales in December; an unprecedented Australian record!

Again, you wouldn’t be naïve to assume that an area so rich in marine biodiversity would be protected by the Australian Government, given the incredibly unique and special features described.

The endangered blue whale has been the focus of much Government funding and research over the years and it would make sense to protect one of only three known feeding grounds for these whales in Australian waters.

However, seismic testing has just been approved to commence in November and December this year, at the exact time of year and in the very location of these extraordinary blue whale sightings.

We believe the science speaks for itself in both these cases and yet what we see is scientific data being ignored time and time again.

So the question we are asking is what will it take for the Government to stop approving oil and gas developments in habitat that is clearly critical to these whale populations?

Science clearly isn’t enough, so when it comes to the petroleum industry, we can only assume that it is the dollar doing the talking.

--SL

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