Right whales, © Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA, NOAA permit #15488

The Sound of Seismic

Oil Prospecting in the Atlantic Ocean Could Have Serious Consequences for Endangered Marine Wildlife

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Ear-shattering explosions echo through the ocean. Dolphins, whales and sea turtles scatter, trying to get away from the source of the noise. What’s making this deafening sound? Seismic testing.

Seismic testing is a way for oil companies to find oil and gas reserves beneath the ocean floor and determine where to set up drill rigs. Boats tow air guns through the water behind them that blast compressed air with massive force. The sound is like a stick of dynamite dropped down a well, and testing can go on around the clock for weeks. Because the signature of the sound waves changes over oil, the blasts create an audio-image that reveal fossil fuel deposits beneath the ocean floor. But at what cost?

The deafening noise levels caused by seismic testing have harmful effects on ocean-dwelling wildlife, some of which experts are still working to understand. The deafening booms of the air guns are capable of causing temporary or even permanent hearing loss in nearby animals. Explosions can interfere with whales’ and dolphins’ ability to echo-locate, which may cause them to strand and die on beaches. Whales have been observed going miles out of their way to avoid seismic testing ships. The noise can also prevent whales and other marine mammals from communicating with one another.

Many species of whales rely on their “songs” to attract mates, tell their fellow whales about food, or warn them of nearby threats. If seismic testing drowns out these songs, it’s difficult to know whether whales can adapt. Testing can also frighten away prey species for whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals.

whale, © Myer Bornstein

Last year, the federal government considered allowing the sale of oil and gas leases along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, running from federal waters off Virginia through North and South Carolina to Georgia. But the plan faced strong opposition from a wide coalition of local communities, as well as local, regional, and national conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife. While the Obama Administration has thankfully decided to take oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic off the table for the next five-year leasing plan, it is allowing seismic testing to move forward in the same area. It’s not clear when any companies will begin exploration; they must receive federal permits to do so first. But if they do, many species of marine wildlife will face new and serious challenges to their survival.

One whale in particular could be put in serious jeopardy by seismic testing. Only about 500 endangered North Atlantic right whales exist in the wild today, after extensive hunting in the nineteenth century nearly wiped them out. These whales already face plenty of threats, from ship strikes to entanglement in fishing gear. North Atlantic right whales generally stick close to the shoreline, migrating up to the Gulf of Maine in the summer, and spending the winter off the coast of Georgia to rest and calve in the warm, calm waters. The area where companies could begin seismic testing overlaps completely with right whale migration routes.

Sea turtles are also at risk, with many of their nesting beaches located near testing areas. Newly-hatched sea turtles make a stressful, exhausting dash from their sandy nests to the water and, once there, continue their journey to the open ocean. These tiny creatures already overcome the threats of predators, cars and other obstacles just to reach the water. If they also have to swim through the seismic testing area before they can reach the open ocean, the sound could disorient them, causing them to waste vital energy avoiding the source of the noise instead of finding safe haven.

We don’t know how marine species will respond to the disruptive blasts or what long-term effects seismic testing could have on their survival and recovery. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) drafted a report that concluded that seismic testing would only have “moderate” impacts on marine life when it first considered opening up the Atlantic coast to drilling. But based on scientific research and past evidence, the consequences are likely to be a serious concern. We must be vigilant and quick to respond if seismic testing is harming North Atlantic right whales and other imperiled species. Check back with us as this issue progresses — Defenders and our conservation allies are keeping a close eye on BOEM and oil companies alike.

Stop Seismic Testing!

Ask President Obama to protect our vulnerable marine wildlife and stop seismic testing in the Atlantic.

Sign the Petition »

28 Responses to “The Sound of Seismic”

  1. Nicole Tilyard

    Please move towards green energy. Doing anything to make a dollar at the expense of animals, nature and humans is unconscionable. Conscious capitalism is what we need. Not people who will do anything to make a dollar at the cost of our planet Earth.

  2. Angel Fultz-Meyer

    Please do not kill our wildlife because you want to make a buck…..

    • Emily March

      @Angel F-M. – Quite right. Let’s hope they take notice (whoever they are…). Seismic testing in oceans is absurd, anyway!

  3. Chris Roper

    Sea life is ancient. It is Our job to protect our mother earth. It is wrong to try and make money off of harming life that we may not fully understand from the depths of the vast seas. Open your eyes, open your heart to what you are doing. We Must have regard for other life other than our own if we want to change the course from where we are headed. Preserve life!

  4. thanh ngoc truong

    BANGKOK – THAILAND
    AUG . 6 . 2016

    _ 1 – PERMISSION , NETWORK CHARACTERISTICS , ALL OF THE CITIZENS MUST BE HIGHER , THE AMBITION , FROM THE BILLIONAIRES ……..
    _ 2 – NO BILLIONAIRES , NO TERRORISM , AND NOR HAS ANYONE , WHO TO SUFFER FROM THE OPPRESSION OF CAPITALISM IS TERRORISTS …..

    # – THAT ‘S SAFETY OF OUR , WE NEED TO BE MORE CLEARLY , FROM NOW .
    STRAIGHTWAY , NO VOTE FOR BILLIONAIRES ,TO BECOME PRESIDENT , TO BECOME LEADER WORLD

    _ 3- WE ARE TOGETHER WISELY , TO NOT VOTE FOR BILLIONAIRES , TO BECOME PRESIDENT , AND WOULD BE THE DREAM , CAN NOT NEVER COME OF THEM ……..
    _ 4 – ***** GREATFUL WITH ALL THE RESPECT ……
    ……. JUST EXACT NO VOTE FOR BILLIONAIRES *****

    THANH TRUONG

  5. Elizabeth Alvarez

    We cannot continue to ravish the planet of wildlife for the sake of human greed.

  6. Bea Arline

    Chris Roper said it so well. “Sea life is ancient. It is Our job to protect our mother earth. It is wrong to try and make money off of harming life that we may not fully understand from the depths of the vast seas. Open your eyes, open your heart to what you are doing. We Must have regard for other life other than our own if we want to change the course from where we are headed. Preserve life!” I totally agree!

  7. Anna Louise Fulks

    With the abundance of sun and in many places that have hydroelectric capacities we should have solar energy (which is clean) which does not harm the environment and marine life/habitat. We should be looking at Spain, Germany, and other countries who strictly use solar energy. . . and Scandinavia uses hydroelectric for their energy needs. With our own brilliant energy scientists we can do no less.

  8. Lani

    Enough is enough! When will you learn? your grand children have to live here too or will they be living underground with you in some hole that never sees the sun? Stop the destruction before it’s too late. Personally, I love this planet and would like to be here quite a few more years and watch it thrive. ( not die ) THINK before it’s too late.

  9. Catherine Smith

    As a scuba diver for over 30 years, I know how sound carries underwater, but is also not location specific. It is very disorienting to find the source of sound. As Americans, we have long denigrated the use of dynamite that many foreign cultures use to easily catch fish as they implode and float to the surface. I would suggest that any exploration company should first put their executive staff in the water to “test” just how dangerous or not this method is and then those who survive can make an informed decision. This ‘exploration’ will go on 24/7, each of approximately 20 companies doing their own testing so as not to share ‘intellectual property’. If there are any fish, turtles, Sharks, Dolphins or whales left, it will be a miracle. Nothing is worth the little bit of oil or gas that could be found off of the Atlantic coast. Please make your voices heard!

  10. Time

    We don’t own the land or the sea., We are stewards and as such we should be taking care of the left to our care. The biggest danger to the earth is US!
    EXTINCTION IS FOREVER PEOPLE!

  11. Jeanine Garber

    Just a few day’s ago, I read that the ocean could be the place for the next gold rush. I also signed a petition to prevent the mining of gold, cobalt, & copper in our ocean’s. They say that these mineral’s are plentifull in the ocean. Especially gold. Some will stop at nothing, for a chance to be rich, regardless of the consequences! We can’t let that happen!

  12. Zara barber

    Marine wildlife has been on this earth longer than we have and have done nothing at all to harm is humans.
    We seem to do lots to harm them and also almost wiping them of the fact of the earth, for what? …… for greed.
    Let’s stop all the testing and protect what little marine life we have left because our world needs them to survive , our eco system needs them, we need them. Let them live. They are the innocent ones in all this.

  13. Lorraine Baker

    To begin with, we shouldn’t be drilling for oil and gas ANYWHERE ! ! ! ! That is just about MULTI-BILLIONAIRES and TRILLIONAIRES that have enough to BUY ANYTHING! including the our ELECTIVE PROCESS! They’ll always be there, unfortunately, but why can’t they spend the same money that they’re using to destroy our oceans on clean energy sources instead, like WIND and SOLAR! There are those who say that’s not perfect. No, it’s not yet, but it’s many, many, times better than oil and gas and being improved upon constantly.
    Thanks for listening!

  14. Horace Hevia

    Most surveys discharge their airguns approximately every 9 to 11 seconds and may continue, almost nonstop, for weeks or months on end. In some cases, animals could be subjected to concurrent pulses from overlapping surveys. The impact of chronic exposure to these sounds often exceeds the projected short-term impacts regulatory agencies currently use to set acceptable sound-exposure levels, Nowacek said. Any meaningful environmental assessment of airgun surveys in the Atlantic must evaluate the cumulative impacts on the whales’ health and reproductive rates over time, he said.  

  15. Sarah McBride

    Please do not let this continue. We are talking about causing deadly irreversible harm to some of the planet’s most important (not to mention endangered) creatures. Think about the catastrophic effects on our oceans of losing the whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

You May also be interested in