In the ocean you find a symphony of sound, from the clicking of snapping shrimp to the long mournful wails of whales, and zips of dolphins. Now imagine this oceanic soundscape shattered by dynamite-like blasts, every 10 seconds for days and even weeks on end. Blasts so loud they can literally deafen marine mammals that need to listen to live, possibly injuring or killing these animals by the tens of thousands.
This grisly scenario may soon become a reality in an area of the Atlantic Ocean twice the size of California, where the Department of the Interior is currently reviewing a proposal to test the seafloor with seismic airguns, all in the speculative pursuit of more offshore oil and gas.
Seismic airguns are towed behind ships. From there they discharge compressed air to generate intense pulses of sound, 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. These sounds are loud and powerful enough to penetrate the earth's crust and bounce back, potentially uncovering pockets of oil and gas deep beneath the ocean floor. Animals caught in the crossfire are considered collateral damage by the industry. In this case, the government -- by its own, likely conservative, estimate -- predicts that 138,000 marine mammals will be injured and possibly killed by the blasts in an area that stretches from Delaware to Florida.
The constant airgun noise is particularly harmful for whales and dolphins which depend critically on their hearing to survive. As animals that rely on sound to navigate their environment, find food, find mates and communicate, going deaf is effectively a death sentence. For some of the animals in the proposed area of testing the margin for survival is already razor thin. There are fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales left on planet earth. The government predicts the testing will directly injure or kill nine of them. Innumerable fish and sea turtles would also be harmed by the blasts.
In the best case, the reward for all this destruction would be the opening of more of our oceans to the kind of offshore drilling that a few short years ago resulted in the worst environmental catastrophe in the country's history, and fresh new reserves of fossil fuels to burn as the world's thermometer ticks steadily upward.
But stopping seismic airgun testing is a goal that should appeal to more than just environmental sensibilities. In the North Sea, catch of cod and haddock dropped by 40 to 80 percent for thousands of miles in the wake of seismic airgun testing. Norwegian fishermen sought compensation for a drop in catches in 2008 and the worst tuna fishing season on record has fishermen in Namibia looking to recent seismic surveys in the region as a culprit. Extrapolating these examples to the area currently being proposed for the United States reveals the financial folly of the proposal. The area currently being reviewed for potential airgun use hosts an $11.8 billion fishing industry supporting 222,000 jobs, with an additional half million marine tourism and recreation-related jobs located within the blast zone.
The alternative to this strategy -- one that seems to benefit only a handful of oil and gas companies at the expense of entire marine, as well as human, communities -- is an investment in offshore renewable energy. Offshore wind could provide at least three times as many jobs as offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic, could power millions of homes with clean power indefinitely, does not require seismic airgun testing, and eliminates the risk of catastrophic oil spills. This is the approach organizations like Oceana have taken, by both protesting and challenging the use of seismic airgun arrays while pushing for the development of cleaner, more sensible offshore energy resources like wind.
In some cases where seismic airgun testing has been used, fin and humpback whales within 100,000 square miles stopped singing. Other marine mammals have been so frightened by the noise as to get the bends, or decompression sickness, during dangerously quick ascents to the surface. In Alaska some bowhead whales abandoned their habitat altogether. In the Atlantic, the Obama Administration is seriously considering a proposal that would injure or kill more than 42,000 bottlenose dolphins alone. It is clear that seismic testing is something this administration should abandon in favor of cleaner alternatives, and it's time they hear this message loud and clear.
This is why I am respectfully petitioning the President to stop seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic. Please join me and others in signing this whitehouse.gov petition as we stand up for Atlantic marine life and the people who depend on a healthy ocean.
We need 100,000 ocean-inspired voices to sign and stop seismic testing.