Seismic Blasting in the Atlantic: “The Real Story”

Written by on February 11, 2014 in Policy & Ocean Law
Screenshot from "The Real Story on Seismic Blasting in Our Oceans"

Screenshot from “The Real Story on Seismic Blasting in Our Oceans”

Later this month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will make its recommendations on seismic airgun testing in the Mid and South Atlantic.

Seismic airgun testing is a method of searching for offshore oil and gas that comes with potentially deadly consequences for marine life. Seismic blasts can kill fish eggs and larvae and scare fish away from important habitats. The blasts can also cause temporary and permanent hearing loss in marine mammals which can result in strandings or even death.

BOEM is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on seismic blasting and Oceana, an ocean conservation group that has been fighting to stop testing before it begins, believes “BOEM needs to consider the latest and best science on seismic, which exposes its many risks.”

MST recently spoke with Oceana marine scientist Matt Huelsenbeck to learn more about the pending EIS and the latest science that should (but might not) be included.

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf off the coast of Georgia.

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf off the coast of Georgia. Photo credit: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division via photopin cc.

There are two important pieces of information that BOEM needs to take into account, Huelsenbeck explains. The first is NOAA’s Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammals, published in December 2013. The document provides guidance for assessing a marine mammal’s response to sound exposure and identifies thresholds above which individual animals will experience temporary or permanent changes in hearing. This information is crucial for determining where and if or when the government will allow seismic airgun testing. NOAA is accepting public comment on the draft Guidance through March 13, so now is the time to speak up for the oceans.

The second critical piece of information comes from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program, which revealed that critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are found much further off the coast then previously known. Part of the plan to limit the impact of seismic blasts on right whales includes a seasonal closure up to 20 nautical miles off Virginia’s coast. The data from Cornell’s Right Whale Listening Network reveals, however, that the whales can be found as far as 65 nautical miles from the shore.

This information is also crucial to the EIS because it reveals that current mitigation measures are not going to be effective since the majority of the whales were found beyond the closure, and these animals won’t stay behind an invisible fence, Huelsenbeck mentions.

Oceana believes BOEM needs to take its time and incorporate the latest and best science available before making recommendations — especially because there’s no rush since offshore drilling won’t be allowed until at least 2017.

Take a look at Oceana’s latest video, The Real Story on Seismic Blasting in Our Oceans, to learn more:

The good news is that there are things you can do to help. First, make your voice heard. The government needs to know that people oppose seismic airgun testing and that decisions should be based on the best science, not the demands of big oil and gas companies.

Second, fight for renewable energy options. Huelsenbeck singles out wind power as a great alternative because a) there won’t ever be an oil spill at a wind farm and b) wind power is much further along than offshore oil and gas here on the East Coast – BOEM has already leased nearly 112,800 acres off the coast of Virginia for offshore wind development!

For more information, check out some of these links:

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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