Whale Migration in Seismic Danger

Watchful environmental activists have been monitoring a seismic survey vessel off the east coast of SA. The ship, named The W.S Magellan, appears to be in direct contravention of agreements which strongly discourage surveys from taking place during the whale migration period from July to November. It started becoming “fishy” when the vessel turned off its AIS tracking system, and was found to have applied for an extension to its operating license.

Position of the W.S Magellan as of 8th July.

During the recent Ballito Pro surf event in Durban, the Sharks Board spotter planes counted up to 59 humpbacks before giving up due to sheer numbers. The W.S Magellan is operating directly in these majestic mammals path, and even humans have become aware of the booming blasts emitted from the vessels airguns.

Brief Overview: Seismic airguns are used to find oil and gas deep underneath the ocean floor. Airguns are so loud that they disturb, injure or kill marine life, harm commercial fisheries, and disrupt coastal economies. - source

A local man has written in to a TGS insider: “My son and I were diving off Ballito and we heard continual (1 every 10 seconds) thumping - the whole dive. Much louder if you lay on the sea floor.” Imagine the effect on a whales supersonic hearing? The local diver continues “it was only when I got out that my son asked whether it could be the seismic survey vessel, and to tell the truth I was shocked to consider it.” Shocked and perhaps, in an ocean mammal’s world, stunned as well. He finishes by saying what we’re all thinking, “imagine that sound could travel so far that a human could detect it 100+ km away! Those whales in migration will have no chance.”

But wait here’s the ludicrous part: The Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA) and not the Department of Environmental Affairs issues these approvals and extensions notwithstanding the impact on marine life. It seems absolutely repugnant to our environmental laws that an organization whose sole interest is to exploit fossil fuels should also be the gatekeeper of the authorization process.

Another enviro steward has studied the W.S Magellan's project BID and remarks "I see that from their operational planning they were specifically meant to avoid mid-winter as it is clearly the most sensitive time from a marine mammal migration perspective – having observers on board to supposedly intervene in the testing process means nothing when considering cetaceans such as whales communicate over enormous distances- communication that might be essential for their migration assuming they aren’t permanently deafened”

The enormity of the situation dawns on us in the shape of the vessels equipment: The particular vessel doing the 3D survey (Magellan) must have exceptionally powerful air guns as it looks from its specs that it is towing 12 hydrophone streamers that are 10 kilometres long across a width of what looks greater than 1km!!! I assume that each one of the streamers supports its own air gun meaning you have 12 blasts of 250db being fired every few seconds over a very wide area.

So what can WE do? To track the progress of the W.S Magellan you can register with ERM South Africa and in addition we can bombard PASA with emails, phonecalls and letters.Contact them here.

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