Oil and Gas exploration implicated in dolphin strandings

2012 Gulf Dolphin Samples - NMFS Photo

Over 675 dolphins have been found dead along the Florida to Texas Gulf Coast since February 2010. Initially people suspected that the BP oil spill and dispersant use might be to blame. A report from NOAA corroborates this with a finding that some 32 live dolphins show signs of chemical stress with liver and lung damage, and other metabolic compromises.

But reports from other research do not show chemical damage, and some focus has shifted over to acoustical exploration for oil and gas. The concern for acoustical trauma has prompted the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to restrict seismic exploration off Louisiana until May, when the dolphin calving season ends.

2012 Peru Dolphin Strandings

Heretofore there have been only loose correlations between seismic exploration and marine mammal strandings, but the tragic strandings of 2000-3000 dolphins this year in Peru has implicated acoustical surveys for oil and gas off Peru’s coast.

It could be that new technologies are being used for the surveys, or that the cumulative stresses of chemical pollution, depleted food sources, and acoustical trauma are causing a rise in strandings world-wide.

Whatever the cause(s), we can be sure that our growing thirst for fossil fuel plays some role in these tragedies.

Fossil Fuel Noise in the Arctic – website launches!

If you have been anywhere within earshot of the media recently you may have noticed that the Oilmen are on a bit of a rampage. Any sustainable energy program, environmental regulation, or legal challenge that does not promote their agenda is met with apoplectic derision as a “job killer” or worse.

Oil Seeking ArmadaOne of the drivers behind this is the American Petroleum Institutes (API) strategic plan to make America the #1 global oil and gas producer by 2018. API’s president Jack Gerard aims to accomplish this by expanding fossil fuel extraction on all US coasts, rolling back environmental regulations, and defending industry subsidies.

While it may just seem like the “flow of tides” in the public sector, those of us in conservation organizations are working overtime on many fronts: “Fracking,” East Coast drilling, Eastern Gulf lease expansion, Keystone XL, California Coast horizontal drilling, Outer Continental Shelf deep-water drilling, opening up the Arctic, and of course the climate impacts of these new fossil fuel energy sources – are all in play right now.

We have been anticipating this and for that last year have been working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on a highly interactive and informative website specifically focused on the noise impacts of oil and gas operations in the Arctic.

“Don’t be a Buckethead” refers to the acoustical masking that all of the new introduced noise of industry will impose on the highly acoustic habitat of the Arctic Ocean (remember that it is mostly dark throughout the winter, setting the evolutionary stage for some amazing bio-acoustic adaptations). This point is illustrated with a fun and quirky “Buckethead” video on the website.

While we believe that a “full court press” on hydrocarbon development is generally a bad idea, given what we do know (and don’t know) about the risks and impacts, drilling in the Arctic is completely unacceptable.

Please help us halt this foolhardy proposal. Visit the Buckethead site to learn more – or cut to the chase and sign our petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service asking them to do their job and protect the pristine Arctic Ocean from industrial compromise.

Then visit the site…

The Acoustic Ecology of Geophysical Surveys

OCR advisory board member and acoustic ecologist Jim Cummings sent us a New York Times article about life aboard geophysical research vessel (RV) Marcus G. Langseth wherein marine geologist Bernard Coakley writes about the acoustic environment aboard the vessel after winding down a survey operation.

He writes that while a lot of the compressors, airguns, sub-bottom profiling sonar, 12kHz scanning sonar, and the drone of the engines have subsided, the ship-board noise is still too loud to hear the evening movie selection in the crew lounge.

In speaking about the subsiding noise he mentions that the airgun array – which every 13 seconds for a month, and over 5,300 km of track data generated explosions and received seafloor reflections which “shook the aft end of the ship.”

Marcus G. Langseth, Research Vessel

Marcus G. Langseth, Research Vessel

What Coakley doesn’t mention – although it is implied in the setting, is that the noises he is enduring are only the incidental noises of the equipment and operations used for their scientific surveys. The intentional noises used in the surveys are purpose-focused into the ocean, and are by dint of this considerably louder in the water.

Of course the RV Langseth is only a research vessel, towing the relatively small arrays used in an academic context. Surveys conducted for the fossil fuel industry are often considerably louder than academic operations because in principal and in practice they are much better funded and are in turn looking for “deeper pockets” of hydrocarbons.

Industrial Survey Vessel

Industrial Survey Vessel

While the larger ships are probably much less noisy on board due to there being more “elbow room,” given that there are over 40 industrial surveys occurring world-wide at any given time, their contribution to global ocean noise has become a leading feature in the acoustic ecology of the sea.

Global Seismic Survey Operations

Global Seismic Survey Ops.

Yet another great reason to wean ourselves from oil.

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