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Whale of a win: Environmental victory protects whales from noise pollution

Michael Jasny, director of the NRDC Marine Mammal Project, contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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A gray whale attracts attention by blowing air out of its blowhole as it cruises just off the shore of Washington State, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. A landmark case will protect whales from the painfully loud blasts used in oil exploration.

Alan Berner / The Seattle Times / AP

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Here’s a recipe for an environmental train wreck: Take one of the world's most powerful industries, allow it to conduct harmful activities for years without obtaining the basic authorizations required by law, and produce a wealth of science making it plain that those harmful activities are putting endangered and vulnerable species at risk.

Today (June 20, 2013), a number of conservation groups, including my own, announced a landmark agreement that may prevent one such train wreck — this one in the already scarred Gulf of Mexico.

The underlying problem is airguns. To search for deep deposits of oil, companies troll the ocean with high-volume airguns that, for weeks or months on end, regularly pound the water with sound louder than virtually any other man-made source, save explosives. We now know that these surveys can have a vast environmental footprint, disrupting feeding, breeding and communication for whales and other species over literally thousands of square miles.

 
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