Quantcast

‘Was That Disruptive?’ Congressman Blasts Air Horn to Make Seismic Testing Proponents Hear a Fraction of What Whales Hear

Animals
A mother North Atlantic right whale with her calf; conservationists are concerned the endangered species could be further harmed by seismic testing off the Atlantic. NOAA

A congressman found a creative way to make himself heard about the impact of seismic air gun testing on North Atlantic right whales during a committee meeting Thursday.

Assistant Administrator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Chris Oliver was testifying before a Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that the practice would not impact the animals when South Carolina Democratic Representative Joe Cunningham asked permission to blow an air horn, The Washington Post reported.


Permission granted, Cunningham sounded the horn.

"Was that disruptive, Mr. Oliver?" Cunningham asked.

"It was irritating, but I didn't find it too disruptive," Oliver responded.

Cunningham continued to push, as this transcript of the exchange published by Newsweek shows:

"What about every, say, ten seconds, like seismic airgun blasting, that goes on for days, weeks, months?" the congressman pressed.

"If I were that close to it, yeah, probably," Oliver admitted.

"What if you depended on sound for hunting your food and for communication? Do you think it would be disruptive?" Cunningham continued.

"At a distance of 20 feet, yes, it would be?" Oliver responded.

Cunningham asked Oliver to guess how much louder seismic air gun blasting was for whales when compared to the 120-decibel horn he had blasted. When Oliver could not, Cunningham told him that it was 16,000 times louder.

"Do you see how that would be impactful on marine species and mammals?"

"I do," Oliver said, "which is why we put mitigation measures in to minimize the proximity of that activity."

The hearing comes after NOAA granted five companies permits last November to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean to search for offshore oil and natural gas. South Carolina coastal communities and conservation groups then filed a lawsuit to block the practice that was joined by nine east coast states. The five companies are waiting for final permits from the Interior Department before they begin testing, The Washington Post reported.

NOAA officials argued at the hearing Thursday that no right whales have been killed by seismic testing in the Gulf of Mexico or Pacific Ocean, and that studies show its impacts are "sublethal."

However, conservation scientists testified that "sublethal" effects for individual whales could still have serious consequences for the survival of an extremely endangered species. There are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales left alive, and only 100 breeding pairs.

"Many right whales now have poor body scores that are just above the threshold of reproductive success, suggesting that any additional stressors ... will push them below any ability to reproduce," New England Aquarium vice president and senior science adviser Scott Kraus testified.

Cornell University scientist Christopher Clark said that the bowhead whale, a close relative of the right whale, responds so severely to even low levels of seismic testing that it stops communicating. Clark said that the testing could increase the chances that right whale mothers and calves would get separated.

"This is the cost to a marginally surviving population as a result of chronic noise from seismic air gun surveys," he said.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg with Charles Norman Shay, a Native American D-Day Veteran and a sponsor of the Freedom Award, during the 2019 Freedom Award Ceremony, in Abbaye-aux-Dames, Caen, France, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

By Andrea Germanos

Climate activist Greta Thunberg on Sunday urged people to recognize "the link between climate and ecological emergency and mass migration, famine, and war" as she was given the first "Freedom Prize" from France's Normandy region for her ongoing school strikes for climate and role in catalyzing the Fridays for future climate movement.

Read More Show Less
Protests led by Native Hawaiians have blocked the construction of a telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea on Big Island. Actions for Mauna Kea / Facebook

By Jessica Corbett

A week after construction was scheduled to resume on a long-delayed $1.4 billion telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea — a dormant volcano on Hawaii's Big Island — thousands of Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred continued to protest the planned observatory.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
California Condor at soaring at the Grand Canyon. Pavliha / iStock / Getty Images

North America's largest bird passed an important milestone this spring when the 1,000th California condor chick hatched since recovery efforts began, NPR reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less
The Roloway monkey has been pushed closer to extinction. Sonja Wolters / WAPCA / IUCN

The statistics around threatened species are looking grim. A new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has added more than 9,000 new additions to its Red List of threatened species, pushing the total number of species on the list to more than 105,000 for the first time, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

The campaign to re-elect President Donald Trump has found a new way to troll liberals and sea turtles.

Read More Show Less
Night long exposure photograph of wildifires in Santa Clarita, California. FrozenShutter / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristy Dahl

Last week, UCS released Killer Heat, a report analyzing how the frequency of days with a dangerously hot heat index — the combination of temperature and humidity the National Weather Service calls the "feels like" temperature — will change in response to the global emissions choices we make in the coming decades.

Read More Show Less
A Zara store in Times Square, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Timahaowemi / CC BY-SA 3.0

Green is the new black at Zara.

The Spanish fast fashion behemoth has made a bold move to steer its industry to a more environmentally friendly future for textiles. Inditex, Zara's parent company, announced that all the polyester, cotton and linen it uses will be sustainably produced by 2025, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less