Environmentalists Successfully Defend Gray Whales from Tugboats of Exxon Neftegaz Limited

Environmentalists Successfully Defend Gray Whales from Tugboats of Exxon Neftega
Wednesday, 10 August, 2016

Representatives of environmental organizations confirm that at the end of last week Exxon Neftegaz Limited stopped navigation of tugboats in Piltun Bay. This happened two weeks after a collective appeal was sent by environmental organizations to the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Management requesting suspension of navigation with the purpose of cargo delivery and control of its compliance with project documentation. According to the environmentalists, Exxon Neftegaz Limited were implementing activities in violation of environmental safety requirements, which posed high risks for the endangered Okhotsk Sea (Western) gray whale population listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation.

“Near the entry to Piltun Bay a unique whale “nursery” is situated – a feeding ground used by female whales with their calves. Transfer of deep-sea barges by five and more tugboats creates noise pollution with serious adverse impact on the whales. These transfers were undertaken even at night and in heavy fog in low-visibility conditions, thus posing direct threat for the whales to be become victims of tugboats strikes”, said Maria Vorontsova, Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Russia. “For a number of years every summer a gray whale research expedition of IFAW works in Piltun Bay. This year the scientists also have to assess consequences for the gray whale population of the summer navigation through their feeding grounds. The key indicators of the harm inflicted by navigation include analysis of numbers and distribution of the animals, in particular of females with their calves. The scientists suggest that these animals had to move away from the traditional feeding grounds in the “nursery”.

On July 22, representatives of IFAW, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Regional Public Organization “Sakhalin Environment Watch” held an urgent meeting with Exxon Neftegaz Limited and ExxonMobil-Russia. “We provided representatives of these companies with a large set of facts confirming violations of compliance with environmental safety requirements regarding transfer of barges. We have not received from them any convincing counterarguments”, said Alexei Knizhnikov, Extractive Industry Environmental Policy Officer, WWF-Russia. “We cannot state with 100% certainty that the environmentalists were able to convince the company to change their initial plans, which included continued navigation until November. However, we see that last Thursday all barges and tugboats left the boats. Now we have almost a year to continue to try and achieve a very different level of compliance with measures of marine mammal protection once the navigation starts again in the summer of 2017”.

Representatives of environmental organizations are committed to continued monitoring and control of activities in Piltun Bay. “Already in 2013 experts of public environmental expert review in great detail substantiated the danger that these activities pose for gray whales. An expert of the state environmental appraisal in a minority opinion wrote about the same adverse effect. However, Exxon Neftegaz Limited not only disregarded the expert opinion, it also violated its own requirements for minimization of adverse effects on marine mammals. We hope that the company learns from this situation and puts in place measures to prevent any negative impact on the whales next year”, said Dmitry Lisitsyn, Chairperson, Sakhalin Environment Watch.

About IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

IFAW Okhotsk Sea (Western) Gray Whale Research Expedition

Since 2000 IFAW works on the study and conservation of the unique Okhotsk Sea (Western) gray whale population which currently contains 150-200 individuals, nearly all of whom have been individually photographed, named and catalogued by the IFAW research team. The results of the IFAW research to date show that reproduction in this population can fail in years of high disturbance. In 2001 IFAW initiated a coalition of environmental organization with the purpose of protecting the gray whale from dangerous impacts of oil and gas exploration off the northwestern coast of Sakhalin Island. Over 50 international and Russian NGOs including IFAW, WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia, PERC, Regional Public Organization “Sakhalin Environment Watch” voice a unified position. As a result, an oil pipeline due to be laid through the gray whale feeding ground was re-routed around it.

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