‘Was That Disruptive?’ Congressman Blasts Air Horn to Make Seismic Testing Proponents Hear a Fraction of What Whales Hear
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."
Today, I used an airhorn to demonstrate how disruptive seismic airgun blasting is to marine life. It was LOUD. Now… https://t.co/2WnMjJKQOC— Rep. Joe Cunningham (@Rep. Joe Cunningham)1551980067.0
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.
Noise Pollution Forces Whales and Dolphins From Their Homes https://t.co/E4uMogmr99 @NRDC @acousteau @Oceana @azula @seashepherd— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1491399614.0
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To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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