Ithaca, NY & New York, NY--A new National Marine Fisheries Service proposal to authorize seismic oil and gas surveys in Atlantic coastal waters of the U.S. is drawing sharp criticism from scientists concerned about potential impacts to marine ecosystems and wildlife, specifically the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The proposal comes as the result of a recent Executive Order by President Trump to roll back a 5-year ban on oil and gas leasing and drilling off the U.S. East Coast implemented by the Obama Administration. Dr. Christopher Clark and Dr. Aaron Rice at Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program, Professors Andrew Read and Doug Nowacek from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Dr. Scott Kraus with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, and Dr. Howard Rosenbaum with the Wildlife Conservation Society have issued the following joint statement against issuing permits for surveys or drilling:
"Today the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to authorize multiple industrial seismic airgun surveys that would prospect for oil and gas off the East Coast of the United States. We are deeply concerned about the Service's proposal, and about the effects that the enormous amount of seismic airgun activity would have on marine life. Of particular concern is the North Atlantic right whale. This is one of the most endangered great whales on the planet and is already in a state of decline. Furthermore, the individual and combined effects of these proposed seismic airgun activities would impact a wide range of species, from marine mammals to fish and small invertebrates. "Contrary to the best available science, the National Marine Fisheries Service appears to treat airgun exploration as though its potential impacts were restricted to a small area and had no long-term consequences. This contradicts the actual science promoted by the Service,as it fails to consider the aggregate effects of the many surveys that would be proposed in this and future years,rendering its analysis for this proposed action capricious and meaningless. "In 2015, we joined 75 marine scientists in concluding that the introduction of seismic airgun exploration activities into the Atlantic was likely to have 'significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region.' We call on the government to withdraw these proposed authorizations."
"Airguns produce intense explosions every 10 seconds for many weeks or months at a time," said Dr. Christopher Clark, Senior Scientist for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bioacoustics Research Program. "These extremely intense explosions are known to cause whales to avoid or abandon survey areas. In the case of the North Atlantic right whale, this added stress may be the tipping point toward poorer health and lower birth rates." "The places now being considered as locations for seismic surveys—specifically in the mid- and southeastern Atlantic coastal areas—are also vital wintering and calving grounds and migration areas for the endangered North Atlantic right whale," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program. "The sounds emitted from seismic airguns could disrupt essential communications between whales, and right whale mother-and-calf pairs would be especially at risk in and around important habitats where seismic surveys are planned." There are only about 500 North Atlantic right whales left. They are protected in U.S. waters by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In addition to the survey proposals from the National Marine Fisheries Service, an April 28 Executive Order by President Trump calls for possible expansion of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. The order even suggests that some national marine sanctuaries could be exploited for possible oil extraction. The order also takes aim at scientific studies that find seismic airgun surveys harm marine mammals, asking that NOAA's 2016 guidelines on acceptable sound levels be rescinded or "revised." Public comment on the authorizations for airgun seismic surveys can be made at regulations.gov.