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

Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less
A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less
orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Left: MirageC / Moment / Getty Images Right: Pongsak Tawansaeng / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sole water is water saturated with pink Himalayan salt.

Read More Show Less
People march to TCF Bank Stadium to protest against the mascot for the Washington Redskins before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 2, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.

Read More Show Less
A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

Read More Show Less