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Endangered Whale Protected From Life-Threatening Seismic Blasts

This page was published 3 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

Atlantic Ocean marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, won a reprieve from destructive seismic surveys earlier this month.

Together with dozens of organizations and thousands of coastal communities and businesses, Earthjustice has been fighting to stop fossil fuel companies from blasting seismic air guns in crucial underwater habitat for one of the world’s most endangered large whale species.

The work of Earthjustice and others has forced the companies to shelve their plans for the foreseeable future, and hopefully for good.

Why are the seismic surveys bad for whales and other marine life?

  • The seismic surveys would have involved continuously blasting air guns that would injure, harass, disrupt, and possibly even kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life across 200,000 square miles of ocean waters.
  • These air guns produce a noise louder than a rocket launch — and 16,000 times louder than a standard air horn — at 10-second intervals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end.
  • The calls that North Atlantic right whales use to hunt, navigate, and communicate with one another would be drowned out by the blasts. There are fewer than 400 of these creatures left in the world.

How did Earthjustice put seismic surveying on hold?

  • Earthjustice and its allies challenged the legality of permits issued by the federal government within days after they were issued in December 2018.
  • Over the nearly two years of litigation, industry was never able to secure final approval to proceed with the surveys.
  • These permits would have allowed the fossil fuel companies to proceed with seismic surveys even if they harmed marine mammals — and thereby avoid any legal responsibility for harming critically endangered ocean wildlife.

Why is Earthjustice involved in this fight?

  • These proposed seismic surveys pose a dual threat. They not only would harm whales, dolphins, and other marine life, but they also would pave the way for offshore oil and gas drilling.
  • Earthjustice is committed to protecting species like the North Atlantic right whale that are under the care of the Endangered Species Act. We will continue to fight to ensure this critical law realizes its promise.
  • Earthjustice also continues to fight irresponsible attempts to turn our oceans and public lands into gas stations.

What happens next?

  • The original permits expire at the end of November and can’t be extended.
  • If the companies later apply for and obtain new permits, Earthjustice will continue to fight in court.
  • Earthjustice also continues the fight to secure permanent protection from oil and gas drilling for these waters — the best way to ensure that whales and other marine life will remain safe from the threat of offshore drilling.

Turn on your sound to hear the air guns. In a spot of good news, ten right whale calves were sighted earlier this year. See photos of the calves and their mothers. Sadly, at least one of the calves — #3560’s male calf — has since died.

A north Atlantic right whale swims with dolphins.
A north Atlantic right whale swims with dolphins. (Allison Henry / NOAA)