MOSCOW, Russia -- Noise pollution from a gas and oil project in the Russia Far East is the likely cause behind critically endangered western gray whales abandoning their only known feeding area.
The installation of a platform by Sakhalin Energy at Shell’s Sakhalin II project site has resulted in constant, high noise levels underwater for over two days.
A WWF monitoring team has been able to feel the vibrations of the construction work at their base onshore. The ships that are involved in the platform construction 12km offshore make low-frequency noise that may affect the feeding patterns of the whales and harm their auditory system, which is crucial for their orientation capability.
The whales are normally seen feeding adjacent to the shore.
“Shell has been warned by experts of the need to limit both the duration and level of noise, but the company will not let protecting the whales interfere with its construction schedule,” said James Leaton, WWF’s Oil and Gas Policy Advisor.
"There are only around 100 western gray whales remaining in the world, any impact on the population could be catastrophic for its future viability."
Scientists recently confirmed that just one extra female gray whale death per year would be likely to result in their extinction. WWF is also concerned that more ‘skinny’ or emaciated whales were seen last year than any year since 2001 as it suggests disruption of feeding.
Sakhalin II is the world's largest combined oil and natural gas development project and involves the installation of an offshore platform on an existing oil field and the installation of a single platform on a gas field. These platforms, as well as one other, will be linked to the shore by offshore pipelines. The oil and gas will then be transported via 800km of onshore pipelines to Prigorodnoye, in the south of Sakhalin Island and the export terminals.
An expert panel has been convened to advise Shell on the whale issue. However, the most recent meeting was hindered by Shell failing to provide adequate information on previous noise levels or on future construction plans. As a result, Shell is operating without following the best scientific advice.
“Shell needs to halt operations while the noise levels are investigated," Leaton added. "Otherwise, Shell could be responsible for the extinction of the western gray whale.”
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