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Protect whales and dolphins from seismic airgun blasting

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Federal agencies have determined that seismic airgun surveys for oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic Ocean will harass and harm marine mammals, including critically endangered right whales, hundreds of thousands of times.

But now that President Trump has ordered agencies to reconsider the Obama administration’s five-year ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic, oil companies are already seeking permits for this harmful and unnecessary activity.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is taking public comments on the “incidental taking” of marine mammals during these seismic surveys until July 21. Our irreplaceable wildlife and coastal communities are too important to become another casualty of polluter profits. Tell NMFS to deny these dangerous seismic survey permits.

Seismic airgun arrays are towed across vast swaths of ocean and fired every 10-12 seconds up to 24 hours a day for months on end. Each of the blasts can exceed 230 decibels—louder than a rocket launch and many hundreds of times louder than the noise level that would cause pain in the human ear. This sound can travel up to 2,500 miles underwater—the distance from New York City to Los Angeles.

Flooding the ocean with noise from seismic surveys is devastating for marine life. For marine mammals like whales and dolphins, which depend on their sense of sound to communicate, navigate and find prey, this industrial noise can be devastating. Deafening a whale is the equivalent of killing that whale—it just happens more slowly. And even exposures that don’t cause this level of physical harm disrupt these animals’ behavior and can drive them away from areas vital for feeding, breeding or raising their young.

Five companies are seeking permits to conduct this harmful seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Together the proposed surveys will blast more than 200,000 square miles of these biologically rich waters 24 hours a day for six months or more. In many cases, the same areas will be surveyed multiple times. The NMFS draft permits would allow these activities to harm or harass whales and dolphins over 350,000 times in the span of one year, with nearly 2,000 of the exposures loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.

These draft permits come soon after President Trump’s executive order of April 28 directing agencies to reconsider the Obama administration’s decision not to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean for at least the next five years. Opening the Atlantic to oil and gas exploration will unnecessarily put marine life—and the coastal communities that depend on a healthy Atlantic Ocean—in jeopardy for fossil fuels that we don’t need. At a time when our oceans are already showing the stress of climate change, it just doesn't make sense to harm whales, dolphins and other ocean wildlife in the service of drilling for more oil we can't afford to burn.

Let’s urge NMFS to protect whales and other marine life and deny the requests to allow seismic airgun surveys in the Atlantic Ocean!

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Read More: Drilling halted, the Atlantic still faces an offshore threat from the oil industry


Don't allow seismic airgun surveys in the Atlantic Ocean (Re: NOAA - 82 FR 26244)

Dear Chief Jolie Harrison

I am alarmed by the National Marine Fisheries Service's proposal to allow seismic airgun surveys in the mid- and south Atlantic Ocean to subject thousands of dolphins and whales, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, to unnecessary harassment and injury. These animals are vital to the Atlantic Coast's marine ecosystem and to its economy. I urge the Fisheries Service to deny the five pending permits to "incidentally take" marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

These airgun surveys would cover thousands of square miles of ocean and emit blasts every 12-16 seconds, 24 hours a day, for more than six months at a time. Marine mammals rely on sound to navigate, find each other and find prey. In the draft permits, the Fisheries Service proposes to allow five companies' airguns to disturb 28 species of whales and dolphins more than 350,000 times in one year and cause permanent hearing loss and other physical injuries nearly 2,000 times. The impacted marine life includes endangered species like sperm, fin and North Atlantic right whales. In the case of the endangered sperm whale, a population with no more than 5,350 animals in the Atlantic, the Fisheries Service proposes to allow the seismic companies to cause physical injury to these animals 20 times and to harass them nearly 6,000 times in one year. Even these shocking numbers are likely far below the actual extent of the impacts because the Fisheries Service has only reached them by relying on mitigation and monitoring measures that will not effectively prevent far greater exposures. This is simply unacceptable.

Seismic testing is also a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas that we do not need and cannot afford to burn if we are to prevent the worst effects of climate change. In fact, the estimated oil and gas reserves in the Atlantic would supply the United States for just six months. It makes no sense to allow seismic airguns to harm marine wildlife simply to collect information that will sit on a shelf.

For all of these reasons, an overwhelming number of the East Coast's municipalities, elected officials, fishing families and businesses have banded together to publicly oppose seismic testing and offshore drilling. I join these entities in saying that we simply do not want seismic vessels imperiling whales and dolphins along the Atlantic Coast. I urge the Fisheries Service to deny the five permits for seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

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