Critically Endangered Whales Stop Feeding Thanks To Russian Oil & Gas Exploration

western grey whale photo

Photo via ICUN Press Release; credit Dave Weller

The issue of how marine noise impacts whales is a subject of intense study. We're seeing more and more evidence of how human activity in the ocean negatively affects whales and dolphins. Most often the culprits pointed out are the shipping industry and naval sonar. But other harmful noises include that of oil and gas exploration. Recently, even more evidence is piling up as it looks like critically endangered western grey whales fled their feeding ground when Russian oil and gas company Rosneft began exploration work in late August. It's an issue we've been following since early August, and it looks like the worries of harmful effects on the whales were well-founded. A press release from World Wildlife Fund states that despite the opposition of 12 governments, NGOs, scientists and the public to postpone exploration until after the whales left the feeding ground, the company commenced anyway, blasting the water with acoustic noise to detect oil and gas deposits. They've even conducted tests at night in violation of international standards and their own guidelines. And it looks like it drove the whales, including mothers with calves, away from their food. Before the testing, 10-15 whales were spotted feeding in the area. Now, only a few are migrating through, but not stopping to feed. With only about 130 western North Pacific grey whales left in the ocean, this is a big deal.

Even though everyone from WWF supporters to global governments have requested the company to cease the testing during this important time of year, the company has essentially ignored them.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have been concerned about the company's plans for exploration since June. According to IUCN, the threats facing the whales include ship collisions, underwater noise, entanglement in fishing gear, and of course, offshore oil and gas activities.

This is of particular concern off of eastern Russia because it is the only known feeding ground for this particular whale population. If whales are passing up their only source of food during their migration because of noise, their odds of survival are significantly reduced.

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