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Seismic Survey Threatening Whales To Extinction

June 24, 2010

International Whaling Commission scientists warned recently that a seismic survey in Russia’s Far East could push Western North Pacific gray whales closer to extinction.

“The committee is extremely concerned about the potential impact on western gray whales and strongly recommends that Rosneft postpone their survey until at least June 2011,” the scientists said in a report released this week, referring to the Russian company carrying out the testing.

According to the IWC, there are less than 130 Western North Gray Whales left, and only a couple of dozen females of calf-bearing age.

“The Rosneft survey (is set to) occur while the highest number of feeding gray whales, including cow and calves, are present,” the 120-strong committee cautioned.

However, in a plenary session Wednesday a Russian negotiator indicated that tests would push on as planned.

Numerous studies have shown that noise pollution in the sea reduces the zone in which whales can feed, and hampers their ability to communicate.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said that some forms of noise pollution are so powerful that whales can be seriously injured by the shock.

According to Michael Andre, director of the Laboratory of Applied Bio-Acoustics in Barcelona, sonars used by the military and the oil industry can exceed 230 decibels in volume, and can be deadly within a 0.6 or 1.2 mile radius.

The IWC scientists said that Sakhalin Energy, another Russian company, conducting seismic probes in the same region has adopted IUCN recommendations in terms of timing and procedure to avoid harming the ocean’s giants.

“It’s not as if the committee is asking them not to do the survey,” said Wendy Elliott, species manager at WWF International.

“All they have to do is wait a year and conduct it earlier, before the whales arrive in the area.”

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