Marine scientists reiterate need to prevent Atlantic seismic blasting

Already endangered right whales could be pushed to "the tipping point" of extinction if seismic blasting occurs in the Atlantic, according to a group of marine biologists. (© FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute)

A coalition for more than two dozen marine biologists today implored President Obama to block the oil industry’s proposed seismic blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, saying the air-gun blasts could drive a rare whale species to the brink of extinction.

In the letter addressed to the President and signed by 28 marine biologists, the right-whale experts say the use of seismic exploratory blasts “may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale, contributing significantly to a decline towards extinction.”

Last month, the Obama administration removed the Atlantic Ocean from consideration for oil drilling for the next five years. However, under a separate process, oil and gas companies are still being considered for seismic blasting permits. In seismic blasting, ships use powerful air guns to examine the seabed, looking for areas that could contain petroleum deposits. But scientists have long said those blasts can be harmful or deadly to marine animals like turtles, dolphins, and whales.

SELC spearheaded the fight to remove the drilling option from the Atlantic, and continues to work against seismic blasting.

"The reason to do seismic is to drill,” said SELC Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “These scientists are saying this population is too vulnerable to withstand the additional threat of seismic, let alone the threat of drilling. President Obama listened to more than 100 coastal communities who collectively declared that oil drilling was too risky for the East Coast’s pristine and vital beaches. For all the same reasons, he should block harmful and unnecessary seismic blasting."

The marine biologists say these airgun blasts could have a catastrophic effect on the rare right whale, which according to the scientists, only number around 500. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vastly expanded what it calls the “critical habitat” for right whales, saying the whales use wider calving and migratory routes than previously thought.

In the letter, the scientists urged the president to “withdraw the … decision to introduce oil and gas surveys, which is based on an inadequate and outdated environmental impact statement, and to halt the permitting of oil and gas surveys off the east coast.”

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