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Far East Seas, Whales and Oil Drilling

Seismic testing in whale feeding area - harmful and illegal

The seismic testing involves a series of undersea explosions conducted off Sakhalin Island in the feeding grounds of the most endangered population of whales in the world. This seismic survey searching for undersea gas and oil is to be conducted by a subsidiary of the Exxon company - ExxonNeftegas. Also other oil companies like Shell are active in the Sakhalin region and will undertake new seismic testing in the future.

The western Pacific Gray whales were declared a critically endangered species last year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) after studies by Russian and American scientists showed that there are less than 100 of these whales and only 12 of them are known to be bearing young.

Many of the whales observed have been emaciated, some with the outlines of bones showing under their blubber, so called 'skinny' whales. Any further reduction in their fitness may reduce their reproductive capability or even cause their death.

Seismic testing in the feeding grounds of this critically endangered whale population may compromise their ability to find sufficient food or may even push them out of their feeding grounds altogether. Based on the current status of this population and the 'skinny' whales observed the past two years, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) recommended in their report that no seismic surveys take place while the whales are in their feeding grounds.

On July 26 2001 the IWC adopted the position of their Scientific Committee that "strongly recommends that no seismic work be conducted while whales are present."

The Sakhalin population of gray whales feed every year during May to October, and then have no food during their whole trip to the south and back to Sakhalin from October until May.

During the installation and drilling operations of the Molikpaq oil platform, the impacts from drilling, oil spills and high levels of noise drove the Gray whale population to the north, precisely the site where Exxon renewed seismic testing yesterday.

    According to Russian Federal legislation, the seismic activity is illegal because:
    • There was no environmental impact assessment made for the seismic survey, which must be conducted according to Russian Federal law;
    • Any type of industrial activity is forbidden in the places which are the habitant of species which are in the Red Book of the State Law on Animal Protection.

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