Oversight on a seismic scale as Minister approves oil and gas exploration in a Victorian whale hotspot

Friday, 1 March, 2013
Sydney, Australia

IFAW is astounded by the decision published today by Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to allow seismic testing to take place off the Victorian coast, in a location and at the exact time of year that saw the largest ever recorded sighting of blue whales in Australian waters.

WHL Energy Ltd has been given approval by the Federal Environment Department to conduct a seismic survey off the coast off of Warrnambool and Port Campbell this coming November and December. This area was surveyed by Portland-based research organisation the Blue Whale Study in those months in 2012.  They recorded 20 rare blue whales in November and a record 70 blue whales in December.

“It appears no whale hotspots are safe from destructive oil and gas companies and wholly inappropriate government decisions,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW’s Marine Campaigns Manager.  “Government guidelines are clear that seismic surveys should avoid places at any time of year when whales are highly likely to be present. We can’t think of a clearer example of this than Australia’s largest ever sighting of blue whales,” said Mr Collis.

This approval is in contrast to a decision earlier this year by Minister Burke to declare Bight Petroleum’s request to conduct a seismic survey off the waters of Kangaroo Island a “controlled action” meaning it would require a higher level of environmental impact assessment. However, Bight Petroleum has since withdrawn its application but with the intention of resubmitting it this month, thus avoiding Minister Burke’s decision.

“Minister Burke’s decision to allow blue whales to be exposed to deafening noise pollution in Victorian waters is completely at odds with his earlier decision to give a temporary reprieve to blue whales at the other end of these same feeding grounds off of Kangaroo Island, SA.” said Mr Collis. 

“Scientific surveys have recorded the largest gathering of blue whales ever in Australian waters in this exact area. Minister Burke needs to explain to the community what further proof he requires before he takes a stand to protect endangered whales in this critical area?” concluded Mr Collis.

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