Whale of a win: Environmental victory protects whales from noise pollution
Among other things, our settlement puts biologically important areas off-limits to high-energy exploration, expands protections to additional at-risk species and requires the use of listening devices to help prevent injury to endangered sperm whales. Our agreement is also forward-looking, requiring industry to develop and field-test an alternative to airguns known as marine vibroseis, which could substantially reduce many of the impacts. Over the long term, the hope is that working together stands a better chance of saving species in the Gulf's biologically compromised, politically heated environment.
Marine conservation in the Gulf isn't like conservation in other places. Among other difficulties, the disruptive activities NRDC is concerned about are affecting the same populations still suffering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Here you have several dozen small, coastal communities of bottlenose dolphins, which have undergone a severe die-off since the spill; a resident population of Bryde's whales, of which fewer than 50 individuals were believed to remain even before the spill occurred; and a population of strangely undersized sperm whales, whose nursery in Mississippi Canyon was ground zero for the spill.
Ultimately, our society must find mechanisms that reduce the industry's chronic, cumulative impacts on these imperiled animals.
Last summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mapped average annual levels of ocean noise from Texas to the west coast of Florida, and found that noise from airgun surveys alone was approaching 120 decibels throughout much of the northern Gulf. That’s a yearly average level of noise that, for whales and dolphins, nearly exceeds the government's standard threshold of harm for exposures of only one second.