Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Shell’s US Arctic drilling will harass thousands of whales and seals

Exploratory drilling, seismic testing and ice-breaking activities threaten to expose whales to damaging sounds, and ‘a deaf whale is a dead whale’

Rose Hackman in New York

Friday 5 June 2015 17.46 BSTLast modified on Friday 5 June 201520.00 BST

Royal Dutch Shell’s plans for exploratory drilling in the US Arctic this summer will involve the harassment of whales and seals by the thousands, an application document filed by Shell to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reveals.

Most notably, Shell estimates its Arctic activities will expose more than 2,500 bowhead whales, more than 2,500 gray whales and more than 50,000 ringed seals to continuous sounds and pulsed sounds, deemed damaging enough to constitute harassment.

The bowhead whale is listed under the US Endangered Species Act. By Shell’s own estimate, 13% of the overall population of bowhead whales still alive are potentially harassed .

The number of gray whales potentially harassed also constitutes 13% of the overall population, while the number of ringed seals potentially harassed amounts to 16%. Under the ESA, the ringed seal is classified as threatened.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the government may allow for the “taking” or “harassment” of marine mammals, so long as the number taken is small and the impact on the species negligible.

But environmental groups argue the numbers affected by the Shell plans are not small, nor will the impact on species be negligible.

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