North Atlantic Right Whale Threatened By Seismic Airgun Use for Oil & Gas Exploration on the East Coast

North Atlantic Right Whale Threatened By Seismic Airgun Use for Oil & Gas Explor
Monday, 21 July, 2014
Washington, D.C

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Friday issued a decision that opens the East Coast to seismic exploration for offshore oil and gas. This seismic testing threatens to harm hundreds of thousands of marine mammal populations along the East Coast, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Under BOEM’s decision, an area twice the size of California – stretching from the New Jersey/Delaware border down to Cape Canaveral, Florida – will be open to industry use of seismic airguns.

Seismic airgun technology uses sound pulses directed at the sea floor, which are some of the loudest man-made noises in the oceans. The noise from seismic airguns radiates through the water and inundates whales’ eardrums.  In addition, the noise interferes with a whale’s own use of sound to communicate essential survival information, such as food location, imminent dangers, and reproductive status. The whales’ calls are overpowered by the blasts to such an extent that their pods can become separated.

“For creatures that depend on their sense of sound to survive, this is a severe threat,” said Margaret Cooney, campaigns officer at IFAW. “Unbridled noise pollution is drowning out the calls of whales and other marine mammals with life-threatening consequences for finding food, mating, nurturing young, navigating and communicating. With fewer than 500 individuals left, the loss of even one North Atlantic right whale could have a severe impact on the overall population.”

According to the government’s own estimates, over the course of the lease agreements these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more.

The decision to begin seismic blasting is strongly opposed by members of Congress, local coastal town governments, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council and environmental organizations, and by more than 100 biologists, who in February called on the administration to postpone its decision until the full scale of wildlife impacts is known. Industry must now apply to the Bureau for permits and seek compliance under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and other statutes, a process that is likely to generate further controversy.

# # #

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis 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 Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Post a comment

Press Contact

Cynthia Carson (IFAW US)
Contact phone:
Contact mobile:
Contact email:


Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation