New Zealand waters are home to 47 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, which is over half the world’s 80 species of cetaceans. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!
Of course things aren’t all chilled out in cetacean-world what with fishing nets, being hunted, the fishing industry taking their kai, pollution and mining threats. Give ‘em a break!
That’s not what the Government intend to do. Proposals for deep sea oil drilling are now covering substantial areas off our beaches like a patchwork of potential disaster
Early in the process, sonar explosives are used that bounce off the sea floor to find oil and gas. It must be NO FUN to be a whale going about your own business, using echo-location to navigate, find food and having a sonar explosion hit you. Not nice at all.
But the greatest environmental risk during deep sea oil development is of a ‘blow out’. Oil beneath the deep sea floor is under huge pressure - 300,000 pounds per square inch! - when penetrated by drilling. If control is lost, a blowout can release huge amounts of oil into the water very quickly.
For the poor old whales this oil can burn or blind eyes, damage sensitive membranes in the nose, mouth and eyes, poisons them, and blocks their blowholes, all of which leads to what I can only imagine is an awful death.
The Deepwater Horizon blowout showed just how bad it can get for our marine friends out there. Using the Freedom of Information Act in the US, Greenpeace managed to get photos released. They show a dead sperm whale burnt by the toxic effects of oil. Horrible!
During the ongoing Deepwater Horizon disaster, only 15% of the oil reached the surface. Around 4.9 million barrels of oil was released into the sea. The Centre for Biological Diversity found that the number of cetaceans stranded or killed was underestimated by the government and was like 50 times greater than expected. Their report from 2011 suggests that 25,900 marine mammals including bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, melon-headed whales and sperm whales were harmed or killed.
Impacts continue today.
One of New Zealand’s most endangered whales, the southern right whale, which was almost hunted to extinction and so named because it was the ‘right’ whale to hunt, travel from all around the country to breed down here and only here -in the Auckland Islands. Yesterday on the Rainbow Warrior we anchored at Port Ross which during their winter breeding time becomes crowded with noisy, amorous whales. It was hard to imagine the cacophony and argy-bargy of near on 1000 of these giant critters getting jiggy with it.
They have enough survival challenges. Deep sea oil exploration and drilling would make their existence so much harder. Let’s give them and all the other sea life a break and say no to deep sea oil. No drill, no spill.
[Greenpeace would like to acknowledge Aniela Reid for background research for this blog]