Tiny Inuit community fights to protect narwhals from seismic testing

Group of narwhals
Public Domain Glenn Williams

The community of Clyde River is fighting to protect marine mammals from oil exploration in Baffin Bay, Canada.

Last year, Canada’s National Energy Board approved an application to allow a number of companies to begin exploring for oil and gas in Baffin Bay. Seismic testing is slated to start as soon as the ice melts in the summer of 2015, but members of the Inuit community of Clyde River are pushing back.

Mayor Jerry Natanine and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization have asked an appeals courts to review the decision. They are concerned that the loud cannons fired in the process of seismic testing will harm the populations of marine mammals living in Baffin Bay.

The Hamlet of Clyde River has a population of about 900. The Inuit community there has relied on these marine mammals for subsistence for thousands of years.

Hamlet of Clyde River MapGoogle Maps/via

Narwhals could be particularly affected by the testing in this area, because most of the members of this this whale species spend several months per year in the Baffin Bay. According to Greenpeace, this region of sea is home to 80 to 90 percent of all narwhals, also described at the “unicorns of the sea.”

Seismic testing can increase the background noise in the ocean by 100 times, and can blanket over 300,000 square kilometers of ocean—an area larger than the state of Arizona.

A 2013 scientific review found that seismic airgun surveys can have negative impacts on marine mammals like narwhals in a number of ways. Not only can testing cause hearing damage, but it also interferes with whales' ability to communicate with each other. Marine mammals have been observed vacating testing areas, and researchers concluded testing is a probable cause of whale deaths and strandings.

Greenpeace has started a petition in support of the Clyde River community, which at the time of publication had over 118,000 signatures. Filmmaker Ian Rowan has also launched a crowd-funding campaign to make a documentary about the testing, called “Keep Narwhals Real.”

According to court documents filed by Natanine and the Hamlet of Clyde River, other animals that could be affected include bowhead whales, seals, and walruses.

Natanine has been granted a hearing this month in Toronto. The court document also states that the residents of Clyde River were not properly consulted during the decision-making process that approved the testing. “What these companies want to do with seismic testing and oil extraction, I saw this as an injustice to people, and people not having a voice to fight it,” Natanine told Briarpatch Magazine. “That’s why I took it up.”

Tags: Animals | Animal Welfare | Canada | Whales

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