“Hearing is believing”: Scientist exposes impacts of oil blasting on NZ blue whales

Press release - November 2, 2017
A renowned marine ecologist at Oregon State University has laid bare the harmful impacts that seismic blasting for oil has on New Zealand’s marine life, including the blue whale.

Dr Leigh Torres from the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, has penned a blog and released recordings that expose the intensity of the seismic airguns used by the petroleum industry to search for oil. The report was written in collaboration with Dr Holger Klinck from Cornell University.

Taken in New Zealand’s South Taranaki Bight, the underwater recordings capture an oil survey ship letting off seismic blasts every eight seconds. Disturbingly, when sped up, they also reveal the call of a blue whale being drowned out.

Torres says whales use sound to communicate, find food, and navigate, and seismic blasting means their lives are “disturbed and dramatically altered”.

“Imagine someone operating a nail gun for three months in your kitchen and you have nowhere else to eat. You would stay to feed yourself, but your stress level would elevate, health deteriorate, and potentially have hearing damage,” she wrote.

“The evidence has mounted. There is no longer a scientific debate: Seismic airguns are harmful to marine animals and ecosystems.”

Other marine life like squid, spiny lobster, scallops, and plankton, also suffer from seismic blasting.

The release of the recordings comes as the world’s largest seismic oilfields company, Schlumberger, waits for the New Zealand Government to approve an application to seismic blast across 19,000 square kilometres of the Taranaki Basin this summer. The data will be on-sold to Austrian oil company, OMV.

The area is right in the middle of the recently discovered blue whale habitat, the whale’s only known feeding ground in New Zealand.

Greenpeace climate campaigner, Kate Simcock, says based on the evidence Dr Torres has presented, the Government must stop this new survey from going ahead.

“We understand they are proposing three months of constant blasting, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day. The impacts on blue whales in this area are likely to be torturous, interfering with their communication and feeding,” Simcock says.

“As well as the harmful impacts on marine life, science tells us we can’t afford to burn most of the fossil fuel reserves we know about if we’re to have a chance at stabilising our climate. Searching for more oil is madness, and our new Government needs to urgently put an end to this.”


For more info:

Sophie Schroder, Greenpeace NZ media & communications, 021 086 47450

Kate Simcock, Greenpeace NZ climate campaigner, 021 145 0019

Dr Leigh Torres, Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Lab, Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University, +001 541 867 0895