Unhappy years ahead for Great Australian Bight whales

From the viewing platform at the Head of Bright, dozens of adult southern right whales and their calves can be seen sourced from www.adelaidenow.com.au

IFAW responds in relation to new oil and gas exploration leases...

The announcement by Minister for Industry, the Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, of new oil and gas exploration leases in the Great Australian Bight is bad news for endangered whales.

As part of the lease agreements, the companies involved, Chevron and Murphy Oil and Santos (in a joint venture), are committed to conducting large amounts of deafening seismic surveys over the coming years.

This is on top of existing plans by Bight Petroleum and TGS-NOPEC to conduct seismic surveys in the Great Australian Bight, and BP’s plans to drill exploratory wells there (all pending government approval).

This means a noisy few years ahead for the many whales that call the Bight home, including endangered blue whales that feed there, endangered southern right whales, who migrate to the area to give birth, and sperm whales who feed year-round in deep water canyons.

This is not good for animals that rely on sound for practically every part of their daily lives.

They use sound to communicate, navigate, find food and avoid predators.

Loud man-made ocean noise, and seismic surveying is pretty much the loudest man-made noise in the ocean, can cause these animals to stop feeding, can block their communication and can force them to avoid critical habitats like feeding and breeding areas.

And in case you are in any doubt about the scale of what we’re talking about, these seismic survey proposals combine would cover nearly 60,000km2 of ocean.

To put that in more easily understandable terms, the TGS proposal would involve seismic surveying for at least six months a year, for two consecutive years to cover the 25,600km2 of ocean in their proposal.

That’s deafening blasts of sound every 10 seconds, up to 24 hours a day, for six months non-stop in areas where whales are known to feed and migrate.

And the bitter irony in all of this is that over the last year or so the Environment Department has been developing new recovery plans for blue and southern right whales.

Both these plans refer to the risks to these whales from noise pollution. So while one arm of government is busy trying to address the problem, another is adding to that problem at every opportunity. 

Quite how all these proposals will be handled by new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will be a key test of the new government’s commitment to whale protection.


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