Is science manipulated by environmental groups and some researchers?

I have read many submissions by environmental groups (eNGOs) protesting against seismic surveys which, given the content, certainly suggests manipulation is happening.

As this is a long article, the following is a summary of the key points that will be made:

i). eNGOs generally “cherry-pick” or manipulate their document search to only refer to sections or studies that support their claims. They rarely, if ever, produce a balanced review of the research and appear unable to differentiate between good science and poor science lacking in rigour (ie pseudo-science). In fact, they appear to thrive on pseudo-science.

ii). There are, unfortunately, many examples of pseudo-science in the literature, in which researchers have: set out to prove a particular hypothesis; utilised poor methodology with limited controls; exposed subjects to unrealistic stimulae and made claims that are not supported by the data.

While many eNGO submissions would probably look quite impressive to a reader not familiar with the facts and science, most of the claims in them appear to deliberately misrepresent the research and/or rely on what can only be described as poor science lacking in rigour with no application to the real world.

The following is just one example, of many that could be cited, as to why most of the ‘scientific claims’ of eNGOs are dubious and should be viewed with suspicion. It also demonstrates why some of the studies eNGOs cite should be critically evaluated (by them!) before the studies are incorporated (or not) into their claims.

This recent example used the work of Aguilar de Soto et al (2013) entitled “Anthropogenic noise causes body malformations and delays development in marine  larvae”  to make spurious claims of impacts from seismic surveys. Aguilar de Soto et al claimed that their study provided the first evidence that noise exposure during larval development [of scallops] produces body malformations in marine invertebrates. The essence of their results, which are now cited by eNGOs, are that  “scallop larvae exposed to playbacks of seismic pulses…showed significant developmental delays in the animals and 46 percent developed body abnormalities”.  HOWEVER, this study was NOT representative of the sound exposure in the vicinity of a seismic survey IN A REAL LIFE SITUATION. Furthermore, it could not possibly, as the authors claim, provide “understanding (of) the impact of noise on marine fauna at the population level“.  Strangely, even the authors stated that “the inaccuracies arising from measuring the sound field in a small tank as in our experiment, makes it difficult to predict if larvae were subjected to higher exposures than might arise from anthropogenic noise sources in the oceans”.

Given the parameters used for this study, it is rather obvious that the sound levels to which the scallop larvae were exposed are totally unrepresentative of sound levels from seismic surveys to which larvae in the open ocean would be exposed.  The following are a few key differences:

1. Pulses were at 3 seconds intervals, not 10 seconds as in most seismic surveys.

2. As per Fig 2 of the paper, the “seismic” pulses, which had been amplified from seismic pulses recorded at “tens of kilometres” from a seismic vessel, were 1.5 seconds long. Due to limitations used in the amplifier/speaker used in the study, the pulse is very different from a normal seismic pulse as shown in an article on this website comparing a seismic pulse with the sound level of a breaching humpback whale. This means that primary sound exposure in this study was for 50% of the time (1.5 seconds duration divided by 3 seconds interval), whereas primary sound exposure in seismic surveys is for about 0.5% of the time (0.05 seconds duration divided by 10 seconds interval). This figure of 0.5% is also supported in an article by John Hildebrand of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which shows in Table 1 the duty cycle (or exposure) time for seismic surveys is 0.3%.

3. Exposure was in a small tank (2m diameter by 1.3m deep), not in the open ocean. Therefore the larvae in the test were exposed to very strong particle motion (near-field effects), which may have had more damaging effects than the measured sound pressure. The authors themselves stated that “the sound field experienced by an organism is a complex function of its location with respect to the sound source and acoustic boundaries in the ocean necessitating in situ measurements to establish the precise exposure level. This, and other inaccuracies arising from measuring the sound field in a small tank as in our experiment, makes is difficult to predict if larvae were subjected to higher exposures than might arise from anthropogenic noise sources in the oceans.

4. The source was stationary, unlike in seismic surveys, which move at about 2m/sec. Hence, exposure times for relatively stationary larvae in the ocean would be further reduced below 0.5%. This is an extremely important difference.

5. Minimum exposure period was 24 hours of effectively continuous exposure if reverberations in the tank are considered. This is very different from seismic surveys in which exposure periods would be far less.  An article on this site demonstrates that, during a typical 2D seismic survey, the exposure levels at one location within the survey approaches approx. 140 dB re 1 µPa2/Hz for about 0.5 hours only 5 times during a period of 120 hours or approximately 2% of the overall time.  In this case the one location is that of a sound recorder, which could be equated to the location of a marine organism if it had stayed in the same location for 5 days. Another article on the same site shows in Fig 3 that 140 dB re 1 µPa2/Hz is equivalent to approximately 178 dB re 1 µPa(rms).

6. The authors state that the intended exposure sound pressure level is 160 dBrms re 1 µPa but that the overall exposure level due to near field effects is closer to 195–200 dBrms re 1 µPa. Thus, not only is the exposure level in this study significantly higher than scallop larvae would be exposed to during seismic surveys, it would be for significantly longer!

7. Finally, as stated by the authors “Malformations were observed in all flasks of the noise-exposed group starting in the sample corresponding to 66 hours post-fertilization.”  It would be impossible to expose scallop larvae to such intense sounds for this period during a seismic survey. In fact, it would be impossible to expose scallop larvae to such intense sounds for even the 24hr minimum exposure period used in this study. It is noted that no malformations were recorded for the 24hr exposure sample.

This laboratory study, at best, represents a rudimentary effort to expose larvae to an intense noise regime that is not representative of the open ocean or a typical seismic survey. Significantly more refined methods would be needed to support the conclusions made by these researchers and hence the claims of eNGOs who refer to this study.

Thus, what did this study provide as “first evidence” of the impacts of seismic surveys on scallop larvae? Very little!  However, even though the study is totally unrepresentative of seismic surveys, the authors  claimed that the “results call for applying the precautionary principle when planning activities involving high-intensity sound sources, such as explosions, construction or seismic exploration, in spawning areas of marine invertebrates with high natural and economic value”.

What is more disturbing is that the authors, having presented a study of dubious scientific value to the understanding of the impacts of seismic surveys on larvae in the open ocean, also referred to a 1992 study (published in 1993 and 1996) that is of equally dubious scientific value.  This earlier study to which the authors refer, has not been validated during further investigations even by the same researchers.  In their article, Aguilar de Soto et al refer to the work of Engas et al (1996)  and state “studies on the impact of seismic surveys on fishing captures have reported…..reductions of 70% in the catch rates of mobile and valuable fin-fish species such as cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus)”. When one looks at the methodology used by Engas et al, it is very surprising that researchers and eNGOs still cite this work in 2013.

The field work carried out by Engas et al consisted of fishing using trawls and longlines in a 40 x 40 nautical mile (nm) investigation area of the Barents Sea for a period of 7 days before, 5 days during and 5 days after a 3 x 10 nm area of seismic activity occurred in the centre of the investigation area.

The questions that immediately come to mind are:

A.    What impact on catch rates would there be if fishing was conducted in such a restricted area every day for 17 days? One would have thought there would have been a significant reduction in catch without seismic activity being present.

B.    Where is the “control area”, that provides a comparison of the impact on catch rates of fishing the same area every day for 17 days without seismic activity being present?  No control area is mentioned in the paper

Figure 7 of the Engas et al paper, reproduced below, shows the obvious effect on catch rates claimed as a result of the seismic activity.  It can be seen that the impact within the survey area (near the survey vessel) is actually significant at about 70%.  However, is that not expected?  After all, standard mitigation measures for seismic surveys involve a ramp up (or soft start) in which the source is increased from lowest power to full power over a period of 30 minutes to ensure that marine life (eg. marine mammals and fish) have the opportunity to move away to a “comfortable” distance.  It is noted that this “comfortable” distance varies from species to species, with some species, such as dolphins, often riding the bow wave of the vessel and the trailing equipment while the source is active.

engas Fig7

Fig1 – Figure 7 extracted from Engas et al paper

It is very concerning that the catch results for 7 days before, 5 days during and 5 days after the seismic activity have be averaged into just 3 data points at each location relative to the seismic activity.  Has this been done deliberately?  I don’t believe so because individual catches, which would contribute to daily catches, are plotted in figures 8 and 10 of the Engas et al paper.  However, 50% of these plots appear to indicate there is a downturn in the catch rate BEFORE seismic activity begins (ie Figs 8A – trawl catches of cod & 10B – long-line catches of haddock).

As a result of all the questions this paper raised, requests were made to the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) for access to the data from the study.  Finally, 18 years after the fieldwork was conducted, on June 30, 2010, the IMR, Bergen, released the data and the following is a brief summary courtesy of Ingebret Gausland.

The files covered both trawl and long line catches, but only the trawl data gave sufficient information to be analysed.  The long line data was in a format that could not be read by available programs.

On analysis, these data showed a very different conclusion from that portrayed in the original paper.  Of course, there was a significant drop in catch within the survey area.  What a surprise!  This is to be expected and, in fact, is what is wanted as part of the mitigation measures. 

However, when the daily catch statistics for each sample distance in the 7 days before seismic activity are displayed, it can be seen that the before sample for each location, including the location within the area of seismic activity, is highly variable, heavily weighted by a couple of good days’ catch early in the 7-day period and show a downturn BEFORE commencement of seismic activity.

There is insufficient space in this article to show all the analyses but the most relevant one would be the plot for 1-3 nautical miles (1.85-5.55 km) from the seismic activity shown as Fig 2 below:

IG analysis

Fig 2 (Courtesy of Ingebret Gausland). Average catch per haul for each day at 1-3nm from the seismic activity. Red bars indicate days in which seismic activity occurred. (Trawling vessel was in port on 4 and 5 May).

Perhaps all that the original study shows is that fishing in the same area for many days leads to low catch rates.  I would suggest this is already known by the fishing industry.  Similarly, low catch rates in the same area as a seismic survey is something that would be expected due to the avoidance response by the fish and the mitigation effect of the seismic source.  The key issue that both the fishing industry and petroleum industry needed to understand is whether catch rates are affected outside the seismic survey area but this study did nothing to add to our scientific knowledge. This is because the lower catch rates could very well be due to the fishing frequency and not the seismic survey.  In addition, I understand that this was not a fish feeding area (all the fish stomachs were empty) or fish spawning area, implying that fish were in transit through the area. Also, fishing activity in the area had been heavy even before the study commenced on 1 May.  Thus, there could very well be other reasons for the downturn in catch before seismic activity commenced and for the daily variability of the catch.

The study is, of course, now over 20 years old and has been superceded by more recent studies (Slotte et al 2003, Ona et al 2007, Lokkeberg et al 2009 and Pena et al 2013), which, in most cases, have contradicted this work.  Unfortunately, many organisations (including researchers!) still cite this work as evidence of the impact of seismic surveys on catch rates in areas surrounding seismic surveys when clearly it is not.

To conclude, I would like to use the following quote by Geoffrey Harold Sherrington, a scientist who has been concerned about some of the pseudo-science used in the climate change debate: “Good science is simply work that can be replicated, work that has not been falsified, work that considers and quantifies all possible variables, work that advances the state of knowledge, work that is complete before release – not incomplete and calling for the Precautionary Principle.” 

I would suggest that an additional requirement of good science is that it explains and confirms the facts and observations we see everyday as part of the laws of nature.  For example, fish seen in close to proximity to operating seismic vessels (including predatory fish and sharks that bite the depth controllers on seismic streamers, as they look like fins), dolphins riding the bow wave of the seismic vessel and seismic trailing equipment and even humpback whales getting very close to seismic arrays.

The work of Engas et al and Aguilar de Soto et al do not meet the above criteria. 




  1. Natacha Aguilar de Soto says:

    I am the main author of the paper in Scientific Reports…would you publish a reply to this article or is this a censured blog? Thanks.

  2. Natacha, your comments are most welcome. As you will have noticed, your initial comment was not subjected to a moderation process. The Norwood Resource website is open and transparent and simply seeks balanced debate.

  3. Pete Boult says:

    I haven’t seen the original article by Aguilar de Soto – but a quick search on the net on guidlines for locating scallop farms brings up an article called ‘Scallop Cultivation in the UK: a guide to site selection’ by I.Laing, 2002. In this they state (p9) “Sites with depth of water between 15-30 metres are ideal’. They also state (p11) “Sheltered areas usually provide the best conditions”. My question to the experts is – how often are seismic surveys consucted in sheltered locations and 15-30m of water – or perhaps easier to answer – close to scallop farms that might replicate the findings of Aguilar de Soto?

  4. Natacha Aguilar de Soto says:

    I have read with interest comments posted here on a scientific paper about noise-induced malformations in scallops (Scientific Reports Nov. 2013, I am the lead author of the paper and a Doctor of Biology working at the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands, Spain), and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Although I am pleased that our work has received attention in this blog, I would like to respond to comments posted by Mr. Hughes in Jan 17th 2014 and to more recent comments about the likelihood of seismic surveys occurring in areas with scallops.
    The experiment reported in our paper was performed as a response to concerns by Australian fishermen relating seismic surveys to mortality of natural scallop beds, resulting in loses in scallop fisheries valued at AU$70 million; their concerns included the possibility of delayed impacts on scallop abundance by decreased recruitment explaining observed reductions in the population a year after the seismic survey. See for example ( ).
    Although complaints from the fishing industry about the impact of seismic surveys on captures are not new, there have been very few rigorous experiments investigating the potential biological basis of these observations. It is extremely difficult and expensive to test how these huge sound sources impact natural environments in a controlled way. For that reason, we start with laboratory experiments to find out the range of impacts that may occur in the wild and to get an idea of the exposure levels that these occur at. This makes it possible to design cost-efficient experiments in more realistic settings.
    In our study we exposed scallop larvae to pre-recorded seismic pulses in tanks and monitored their development. Noise-exposed larvae showed a significant developmental delay with respect to the larvae in the non-exposed control group. In addition, at the end of the experiment 46% of the exposed larvae showed body malformations while 100% of the control larvae were normal. The paper states clearly that the experiment was performed in tanks (this is the usual method in studies about the responses of organisms to other disturbances, for example, changes in oxygen levels or temperature due to global climate change). It is, of course, impossible to use an airgun array in a tank and so the sound was presented with an underwater loudspeaker, and thus the pressure levels that larvae were exposed to were relatively low. But larvae were exposed to relatively high particle motions because they were located in the near-field of the speaker. Our conservative assumption is that the developmental delay and malformations observed in the larvae were due to the particle motion, not to the sound pressure, but we cannot be sure about this yet.
    Many factors influence the sound exposure received by populations in the wild and so extrapolations from tank studies must be made with caution. Our objective in the article was simply to demonstrate that high sound levels can give rise to growth defects. The experiment was designed to provide a robust exposure but did not seek to identify a level or duration threshold for the observed effect. Although comparable sound levels are produced by some anthropogenic sources, it would be premature to try to predict the extent to which authentic exposures may damage wild populations. The signals received by larvae in a tank will differ from those received in the open ocean, but as we do not yet know which aspects of the signal (e.g. it’s peak intensity, duration or frequency content) most influence the observed pathologies, it is too early to determine the significance of this.

    However, the acoustic conditions in our tank do not necessarily lead to more extreme exposures than could be attained in nature as implied in the blog. In shallow water acoustic surveys, the pulse repetition rates can be as high or higher than those used in our experiment. Likewise reverberation will lead to protracted impulse responses in shallow water environments as in our tank. The limited size of the underwater speaker used in the tank means that relatively little energy was produced at frequencies below 100 Hz whereas high power seismic sources can produce considerable energy at low frequencies as anyone who has seen the water fountain behind a seismic survey vessel will appreciate.

    Clearly, the total noise exposure received by a scallop in the wild will depend on many factors including the bathymetry, the substrate, the survey track and array configuration. But, given that we don’t yet know what range of exposures cause growth defects, we simply can’t say whether or how often effects will be seen in the wild, even when larvae were clearly affected by seismic noise in the experiment. The next step is to perform tests in which the characteristics of the sound exposure are varied systematically to pin down what kinds of exposures cause problems.

    I hope the above helps the readers of this blog to get a more balanced picture of our work. Although blogs are a great forum to air opinions, if you have real critique of our science, I invite you to send it to the journal that published the paper as a correspondence. It will then be reviewed by experts and, if it is sound, will be published and enter the literature. Of course if you prefer to just throw mud, please keep on posting here!

    • Ingebret Gausland says:

      Dear Dr. Aguilar de Soto

      Your comments in reply to the entry by Mr. Hughes on this web-site confirm that your approach to study the possible impact of seismic operations on scallop larvae is totally irrelevant. It is surprising that your coauthors have agreed to publish the paper, but even more surprising that the editor of Scientific Reports and the referees have accepted it for publication.

      In your reply, you say that “the pressure levels that larvae were exposed to were relatively low.”, yet you also say that “… the developmental delay and malformations observed in the larvae were due to the particle motion, not to the sound pressure, …,”. In your paper you also state “But the particle velocities experienced by the larvae here (about 4–6 mm s-1 RMS) imply higher far-field pressure levels of some 195–200 dBrms re 1 Pa, reducing the potential impact zone.”

      You are correct in stating that “However, the acoustic conditions in our tank do not necessarily lead to more extreme exposures than could be attained in nature …”, as most of the affected scallop larvae in the wild will not be in the near field of the seismic array. We can therefore assume that the results of your experiment have to be interpreted based on a sound pressure level of 195 – 200 dB rms re 1 Pa. But this level of sound pressure is only found within a few hundred meters from a seismic source, and a scallop larva will only experience less than 30 exposures. This is very different to the 28 800 pulses per day, or more than 100 000 pulses over the 90 hour duration of your experiment.

      In an area of a few hundred meters from the source there will also be limited reverberations, and the pulse duration will be significantly less than the 1.5 seconds used in your experiment.

      The critique of your experiment raised by Mr. Hughes is based on the above considerations, and so far you have neglected to comment on this.

      Contrary to the information given in your paper, you state in your reply that “… relatively little energy was produced at frequencies below 100 Hz …”. Figure 2 clearly show that at 40 Hz the sound pressure level is down by 10 dB, whereas the sound pressure at 1000 Hz is down by 28 dB. Therefore, the energy below 100 Hz can hardly be called “relatively little energy”.

      Shallow water acoustic surveys, as you refer to, are probably not seismic operations and do not use a powerful seismic source. This is therefore not a relevant justification of the exposure regime used in your experiment.

      Over two decades studies on air-gun impacts on fish eggs and larvae have been performed, and they all show that outside a radius of a few meters there is no impact. There is little reason to believe that scallop larvae would be more sensitive. There is no indication in your paper that these earlier results are not applicable to the mortality of natural scallop beds.

      The funders of your “next step” in these experiments should therefore carefully consider the relevance of your further work in relation to the problems being investigated.

      In conclusion, it is obvious that you are muddling this important topic by comparing long term static noise exposure with the conditions experienced by nearby species during seismic operations. The reason for doing this can only be given by you and your co-authors.

  5. Pete Boult says:

    Natacha – I don’t think John is questioning the results of your experimentation. I think he is more concerned about the “cherry picking” of eNOGs, only citing those bits that suit their politics. I certainly don’t think he is slinging mud. But if we are going to sling mud, I think you are a bit naive to assume that reviewers of scientific journals do not have their own agenda and are all experts. I have a PhD in science and have published many times. I have also been reviewer and editor for both national and international journals and I have often been appalled at the quality of reviews from so called experts in their field. Many reviewers go no further than check for typos and the science is not questioned at all. I have also known high ranking academic professionals get their name on a publication as “editor’ and then do nothing of the sort. So while many hang on to the words “scientific proof” and think publication is part of this, sometimes this can be far from reality.
    Unfortunately scientific publishing has changed in the age of the computer and world communication, where academics now measure their worth by number of publications and citations and phoney science is much more likely to be accepted. The problem being that a negative citation is seen as just as worthy as a positive one!

    • johnnwdhughes says:

      Natacha, many thanks for the time and effort you spent responding to my article. I have been looking forward to seeing how you addressed the concerns I raised regarding your research methodology and relevance to seismic surveys.
      However, it appears to me that you have not responded on the basis of the facts and science. I have a number of concerns/comments:
      Firstly, you confirm that the whole hypothesis for this research was based on non-peer reviewed, unsubstantiated, claims by the fishing industry as well as media reports based on those fishing industry claims. In fact, I am surprised that you did not cite in your paper an important study by the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (TAFI) into the “incident” you refer to. This report can be found at and concludes that “There was no evidence of short-term (less than 2 months) impacts from the seismic surveys on the survival or health of adult Commercial Scallops.”
      Secondly, throughout your response, you appear to be agreeing that your research is incomplete and inconclusive, especially when you say “The signals received by larvae in a tank will differ from those received in the open ocean, but……it is too early to determine the significance of this.” I am therefore surprised by the conclusions that you have drawn in your paper and, of course, the resultant claims made by most environmental groups and some fishing organisations around the world. Surely, it would have been more appropriate to test sound sources that were similar in character and intensity to typical seismic surveys?
      Finally, I am not airing opinions in my article. I am adhering to the science and the facts. Thus, I do not believe it is relevant to have “experts” peer review the following facts:
      a. that a 3 second interval is not similar to a 10 second interval;
      b. that a 1.5 second pulse is not similar to a 0.05 second pulse;
      c. that a stationary source is not equivalent to a moving source; or
      d. that a tank is not similar to the open ocean (which I acknowledge you have confirmed).
      I am sure any readers of this blog can vouch for these facts. It does not take “experts” to come to the same conclusions as me – that this study is totally irrelevant to seismic surveys (which you do appear to acknowledge in your response).
      Furthermore, when you imply that I would prefer to “throw mud”, which could be construed as your implying that I tell lies, I would respectfully remind you that my original article referred only to the facts and facts do not lie.

    • johnnwdhughes says:

      Pete, thanks for your comment. You are correct, I’m not questioning the results of Natacha’s experimentation, simply the relevance to seismic surveys. That there would be malformations from that level & length of exposure in such a closed environment seems obvious. I’m actually surprised the effects did not show up after 24hrs of such extreme exposure! Your comments about the (lack of) reliability of some peer reviewed publications are most welcome, especially as you have experience with the process of peer review. My experience is with resultant publications which, from my experience, invariably appear to ignore basic facts and day-to-day observations. This is why, in my original article, I questioned the methodology and conclusions of the two studies and the manner they have been used (manipulated) by many eNGOs.

  6. Robert E Brownne says:

    Dear Natacha;

    I have read your original article, as well as the blogs on this site.
    I have got to say, it would appear you are desperately trying to make relevant to the real world the results of a totally uncharacteristic alien ‘experiment scenario’.
    Basically it appears you trying to make the results you measured fit the real world where there is no correlation between the experiment and the real world.

    Let’s look at what you did – you crafted an ‘experiment’ in a tank, took scallop larvae out of their natural environment (on a sandy bottom at 15 meters depth) and subjected them to essentially 24 hour/d sound recording of a seismic survey – you found they were ‘normal’ after pounding away for 24 hours but after 90 hours of continuous banging away in the torture chamber 46% were showing abnormal characteristics. So, where does a seismic survey ship stay stationary in one place being 15 cm away from scallops and bangs away with its arrays every 3 seconds ?
    Now, a seismic survey ship travels around 8-9 km/hr towing an array, so a scallop larvae will be passed over – initially with the noise being relatively low – getting louder then loudest (when the array is above the scallop larvae) then the noise starts to get lower and after certainly an hour has gone completely. Now your results did not show any abnormalities after 24 hours of banging away with your loudspeaker did it? We are talking about 24 hours compared to much less than one hour when the seismic survey ship has travelled 8 km, so perhaps 10 minutes. Plus the scallops are normally on a sandy bottom (where yours came from) not anchored on the water 10 to 15 cm from the source of the noise. This would be pretty bloody significant variation you maybe should have highlighted in your write up, wouldn’t you say?
    Also, a seismic array emits a sound once every 10 seconds – for a duration of .05 seconds – so there is a rest period of approx 9.95 seconds in every 10 seconds. In your torture chamber there is barely a rest period of 1.3 to 1.5 seconds in every three seconds, or twenty broken rest periods of a combined 30 seconds in every minute, compared to six broken rest periods of a combined 59.7 seconds in every minute in reality. Conversly, your noise source went for 50% of the time, whereas the actual noise source from an array goes for 0.5% of the time. This is bloody significant to mention in the write up too wouldn’t you say?
    Further, in a water tank with almost continual sound, there is almost continual reverberation of that sound off the sides and bottom of the tank, so there are continual sound and motion waves, despite you having a rest period of 1.5 seconds every 3 seconds – this also would be bloody significant to highlight wouldn’t you say?

    As a result of just the above casual observations of your methodology compared to a real life activities, and then the quantum leap/s to your conclusion/s it appears that you really want the world to change to match your results of an unreal torture chamber experiment.

    My conclusion – although you will probably say I am throwing mud is based on the above and other unreal comparisons of your experiment compared to the real life activities is very simple :
    Your experiment is patently and clearly NOT in any way representative of the real life situation and therefore the experiment has neither relevance or credibility in reference to the impact of offshore seismic surveys upon marine life.
    For you to take umbrage at comments and commentators who point out factual realities of the actual real life situation compared to the methodology you employed, and based these shortcomings of your experiment, they then challenge the relevance and application of your results to the real world activities of the impact upon marine life from short term noise from seismic surveys, and you refer to these comments/ challenges as ‘throwing mud’ leads me to the view you have completely missed the point that making claims based on unrepresentative experiments should influence what actually happens in the real world is a nonsense.
    Robert E Brownne.

  7. Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn says:

    All allegations of the usefulness of the science on this subject aside, we the People who are in favour of:
    (1) taking a precautionary approach (while (a) the scientific jury is out in times of (b) environmental stress), and
    (2) shifting urgently to clean renewable energy-powered systems:-

    are compelled to make protection of our marine life as our first point of departure, putting the onus on companies to show demonstrably that seismic testing for dirty fossil fuel exploration is in our best interests.

    Catherine (Aotearoa)

    • Catherine, thanks very much for your comment and your interest in our web-site articles. We certainly agree that the global community must transition to more sustainable energy sources as quickly and as responsibly as possible. However, science cannot be ignored in this transition and it is very obvious that fossil fuels will play a major part in this energy mix for quite some time.
      What happens when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow? Also, where will the resources and energy come from to build the wind farms, solar panels and even the large energy storage facilities that are needed to make wind, solar and other renewable systems feasible?
      Science will play a key role in this transition and therefore cannot be ignored and should not be manipulated.
      This is the mission of The Norwood Resource – to communicate the facts and science in an open and transparent manner.
      Returning to your point re the “scientific jury”, even though there have been 40 years of seismic surveys with no known adverse impacts on marine life, I would suggest that it is still “out” (in some circles) only because:
      i) the facts and science are being ignored by many; and
      ii) the “evidence before the jury” has been manipulated as per the subject of my original article.
      It is rather obvious that, despite very close monitoring of seismic surveys over the years, which, incidentally, is much more stringent than shipping (cetacean collisions) and fishing (cetacean by-catch), the claims of most environmental groups are totally false. Hundreds of thousands of cetaceans are known to perish annually around the globe as a result of vessel strikes and by-catch, whereas there is no reputable, published, scientific evidence of harm to cetaceans caused by seismic survey noise.
      Thanks again for your comment – we look forward to any further views you may have.

  8. Natacha Aguilar de Soto says:

    Dear John, I can not agree with your response to Catherine about the lack of scientific information about the impact of seismic surveys in the peer-reviewed literature. Please see the following extract of a brief review I performed two years ago. Now there are further references that I will be happy to send you if you are interested on them.

    3) Impacts of seismic surveys
    Effects of acoustic pollution differ depending on the sensitivity of each species and the type of sound. Impacts of noise can range from null to behavioural reactions to physiological and up to lethal effects. Seismic pulses have a large spatial range and effects can happen due to intense exposures of animals to high level noise at short distances or due to lower level exposures at large distances.
    3.1. On marine mammals
    Behavioural reactions such as change of vocal rates and spatial avoidance of seismic sources have been recorded in a range of whale and pinniped species (e.g. Malme et al. 1984; McCauly et al. 1998,2000; Richardson and Malme 1993; Thompson (Ed.) 2000, see review in Ospar Comission 2010). Whales with high territorial fidelity to feeding or breeding grounds seem to show less spatial avoidance than migrating whales with more flexibility in their movements and showed avoidance at ranges of 12 km (humpback) and 5 km (grey whales). The fact that migrating whales do avoid seismic sources suggests that seismic sounds are a source of disturbance but whales involved in foraging or reproductive activities may not be able of leaving the area without compromising foraging efficiency or reproductive success.
    Studies of physiological impacts of seismic noise on marine mammals are limited due to the ethical and legal difficulties in performing experiments. Some studies with captive animals have shown auditive effects of noise in low frequencies coincident with seismic pulses. Initial studies with a beluga suggested that the whales would only suffer auditive damage if they were exposed at high levels experienced usually only at very short distances from the seismic array. However, further studies with a harbour porpoise recorded auditive damage (TTS or Temporary Threshold Shift) at received peak levels of 200 dB re 1 μPa and if a sound exposure level of 164 dB re 1μPa2 * s was exceeded (Lucke et al. 2008)
    Although changes in the acoustic sensitivity of an animal is an indicator of the potential impact of an acoustic source, this is far from being completely reliable. Some sound sources can produce physiological damage even when they are out of the hearing sensitivity of the animals (e.g. infrasounds in humans). It is also important to consider that some sounds at levels well below those producing TTS may cause behavioural reactions. An example of this is given by several mass strandings of beaked whales (medium sized deep-diving whales of the family Ziphiidae) related to naval maneouvres using military sonar to detect submarines. Contrary to other species, such as pilot whales, beaked whales do not tend to mass strand in large numbers under natural conditions. This elicited investigation when mass strandings were recorded in several parts of the world and identified that stranded whales showed a stereotyped pattern of extensive internal haemorrhagies due to fat and gas emboli. There is scientific consensus that the haemorrhagies were caused by changes in the normal deep-diving behaviour of beaked whales as a response to the sonar sounds (Cox et al. 2004). There have been a few cases of mass strandings of beaked whales coinciding with geological seismic surveys (Malakoff 2002; Palacios 2004) but the lack of necropsies of the stranded whales has impeded studies of causality. Beaked whales seem to be more sensitive to noise than other cetaceans and their extreme diving behaviour, being a medium sized whale, makes them suscentible to injuries due to abnormal diving patterns. Beaked whales inhabit deep waters and New Zealand is one of the places with a higher richness of beaked species known in the world (13 of 22 known ziphiid species inhabit NZ waters).
    3.2. Impacts on marine turtles and invertebrates
    Avoidance responses of sea turtles to low frequency sounds have been demonstrated (Lendhart 1994). Behavioural responses among turtles, such as rising to the surface and altered swimming patterns, were observed with exposure to seismic signals from a small air-gun at received levels of 166 dB (rms) re 1 μPa (McCauley et al. 1999). Under a simplified assumption of spherical spreading of sound in deep waters this level (166 dB) would be received at 1.6 km from an array emitting at 230 dB re 1 μPa (rms) and at some 16 km from a full array emitting at 250 dB re 1 μPa (rms).
    Evidence of strong behavioural reactions from squid (Sepioteuthis australis) to airgun sounds has been demonstrated through controlled exposure experiments in which the squid showed an increase in alarm responses above 156 dB (rms) re 1 μPa. The squid quickly changed direction away from the airgun and, in many cases, fired their ink sacs. Firing of ink sacs was not evident if the array was ramped up rather than starting at full volume (McCauley et al. 2000). Under a simplified assumption of spherical spreading of sound in deep waters this level (156 dB) would be received at 5 km from an array emitting at 230 dB re 1 μPa (rms) and at some 50 km from a full array emitting at 250 dB re 1 μPa (rms).
    There have been two recorded incidents of multiple shore strandings of giant squid (Architheutis dux) on the coast of Asturias, Spain (Guerra 2004 a,b, reported as news by MacKenzie 2004). Long-term monitoring of giant squid in this area shows that the usual rate at which giant squids are found dead (usually entangled in fishing gear) is one per year. The only two mass strandings recorded in the area coincided with seismic surveys. All squid had badly damaged ears with statoliths dettached from their macula and two of the squid sustained extensive damage to their internal organs (Figure 4). Stomachs and hearts were ripped open and muscles disintegrated with some organs being unrecognisable.

    Figure 4. Mass stranding of giant squid related to seismic survey in the north of Spain. Photos courtesy of A. Guerra, CSIC Vigo.

    Studies on the effects of impulsive sound found measurable and statistically significant decreases in the survival rate of both eggs and larvae in the northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) (Holliday et al. 1987). Other studies have shown similar results, with species exposed to impulsive sound exhibiting decreased egg viability, increased embryonic mortality, or decreased larval growth when exposed to sound levels of 120 dB re 1 μPa (Banner 1973; Kostyuchenko 1973; Boomanet al. 1996). Swim bladder damage occurred in adult anchovy at peak pressures of 217 – 220 dB (p-p) re 1 μPa as well as 50% mortalities of 2 day and 4 day old larvae at this level (Tsui 1998) (reviewed in Ospar Comission 2010)

    3.2. Impacts of seismic surveys on fish and fisheries
    Different studies show changes in hearing thresholds of fish exposed to low frequency sound, including damage to the sensitive hearing microcilia. Studies in other species however show no hearing damage, it is possible that because these later species are salmonids used to live in rivers with high natural background noise.
    When exposed to seismic pulses fish show an alarm reaction evident as a sudden curve of the body or “C-start”. Changes in behaviour also include changes of depth and this may explain the decreases in catch rates observed in some fisheries. Norwegian studies showed declines in the catch rates for both cod and haddock (between 45 and 70%) in the vicinity of an airgun array, affecting fish catches at distances of nearly 25 nautical miles (Engås et al. 1996; Løkkeborg et al. 1993). Catch rates did not recover within five days after operations ended. A similar study showed a 52% decline in catches in a rockfish fishery exposed to a single airgun array (Skalski 1992). The reason for this decline in catch rates is unknown, but it has been suggested that it is due to changes in the swimming depth of fish or of shoaling behaviour in response to the airgun sound (Wardle 2001). Other studies, however, have not observed changes in catch rates and there is a need for more scientific studies in this area. In a few cases (all of them in Australia) fishermen have been compensated by seismic operators for catch loses or restriction to fishing areas during seismic surveys.

    • It seems to me it’s a matter of proportion. Why do the eNGOs pick on seismic acoustic surveys and not on other shipping / fishing which cause far more damage to cetaceans than the former. Possibly the answer lies in Catherine’s response and the use of the word “dirty’ when referring to fossil fuels. Perhaps she should have should have also used “Big Oil” and be done with her prejudices against an industry without who’s endeavours half the world would starve. Yes the green revolution of the 20 century was and continues to be fuelled by big dirty oil through production of fertilizers and cheap fuel for farm machinery. The foundation of modern civilisation is based on the products of dirty big oil! This also includes the jet fuel that eNGO scientists use to gather in far flung exotic places as jets could hardly run on renewables – that is unless they used biofuel and millions more from the third world would die because of arable land being turned over to its production.

      OK let’s really get down to business. Really it all comes down to global warming. The campaign to stop exploration for fossil fuels is all in the name of keeping the level of CO2 and consequent world temperatures low, because eNGOs believe that any change will be the end of life as we know it. Yet we all know that biodiversity flourishes under higher temperatures! Perhaps eNGOs have a misguided belief that humans are the pinnacle of evolution and the only thing they fear is change in the status quo!

      Do I hear the words “tipping point”. Tipped into what? A world where humans struggle to survive? What’s the problem? – I just don’t believe all the green propaganda and it seems to me many people in the world are at last realising the same thing. Thanks be to …………the big bang.

    • johnnwdhughes says:

      Dear Natacha, it’s good to hear from you after approx. 3 weeks! I’ve been wondering how you would respond to the series of comments challenging your response to my article.
      It now appears obvious that you are unable to justify how your experiment with scallop larvae is relevant to seismic surveys in the marine environment so you have chosen to change the subject and distort my words.
      However, I would suggest the strategy you’ve adopted is rather dubious for a number of reasons:
      1. Firstly, I did not state there is a “lack of scientific information about the impact of seismic surveys in the peer-reviewed literature”. I simply stated there were “no reputable, published, scientific evidence of harm to cetaceans caused by seismic survey noise”. Furthermore, this was in comparison to the serious impacts on marine mammals from shipping and fishing in the marine environment (ie not in the laboratory).
      2. I agree that the peer-reviewed literature contains many publications claiming impacts from seismic surveys and I remind you that the topic of my original article was the poor methodology and lack of relevance to the “real” world reflected in some of these publications. Many researchers (including you and your team) have made claims about seismic surveys based on studies that cage marine animals in unnatural environments (tanks, cages, nets, even aquariums) and expose them to sounds that are totally unrepresentative of the sounds they would be exposed to during seismic surveys. Most of these studies have no direct validity to the marine environment and are mainly of academic (and eNGO) interest.
      3. I note that the review you have cut and pasted into your comment appears to be biased (was it written for an eNGO?), attempts to link navy sonar strandings with seismic surveys, includes some rather old references and even repeats the Engas/Lokkeberg study that I have already dissected and discredited (in my original article to which these comments relate) and, incidentally, in a workshop you attended in 2011.
      4. Finally, as evidence of your obvious bias, you cite a media program outlining the unsubstantiated claims of scallop fishermen in your peer-reviewed publication. However, you were either not aware of, or worse, ignored, the study by the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (see my comment above) and the widely reported scallop die-off in Southern Australia during 2010. If it is the former (ie “not aware”), I would suggest the oversight is inexcusable.
      On the basis of this “oversight” and the methodology used in your experiment, surely you cannot expect anyone to accept that your review of seismic surveys and the claims contained in your published paper, represent balanced science?
      I could cite a few more concerns about your review and responses to my article but will resist at this stage. However, I would be interested in knowing which publication your biased review of seismic surveys can be located.
      Thanks again for your comments.

    • Ingebret Gausland says:

      Dear Dr. Aguilar de Soto

      Thank you for providing the extract of the brief review you performed on the impact of seismic surveys on marine life. Part of this was obviously written during a period of memory loss, for there are a number of important omissions as illustrated by the following examples:
      • You refer to Holiday et al (1987) and state that they found measurable and statistically significant decreases in the survival rate of both eggs and larvae in the northern anchovy. But you forgot to mention that the conclusion from the study was that “..noticeable impacts on eggs and larvae of this fish would result only from multiple, close exposures to seismic arrays.”
      • You state that “…species exposed to impulsive sound exhibiting decreased egg viability, increased embryonic mortality, or decreased larval growth when exposed to sound levels of 120 dB re 1 μPa” and give three references. But you forgot to mention that Banner (1973) had the species exposed to continuous sound at this level for 11 – 15 days, and that Kostyuchenko (1973) and Booman et al. (1996) used an airgun sound source, exposing the species to peak sound levels of nearly 220 dB re 1 microPa.
      • You refer to Engås et al. (1996) and Løkkeborg et al. (1993) and state that the catch rates were affected at distances of nearly 25 nautical miles. But you forgot to mention that Engås et al (1996) only covered an area out to 18 nautical miles from the seismic operations (this study is the only one worldwide that shows such large influence distance – see also comments by John Hughes at the beginning of this blog discussion). You also forgot that Løkkeborg et al (1993) clearly stated “These data therefore demonstrate significant catch reductions during airgun discharges, and indicate that effects lasted for 24 h and were at least 9 km in extent”.
      • You refer to Skalski (1992) where a decline in catches of 52% was found. But you forgot to mention that the fish returned to pre-exposure behavioral patterns within minutes after sound exposure ceased.

      Hopefully these omissions are only an oversight, and not deliberate misguidance of uninformed readers. The latter would be a serious violation of good scientific practices.

      Ingebret Gausland

  9. Dear Catherine, it seems to me that Ranter has raised the relevant rebuttals to your opinions. However I would like to ask you to clarify this statement: “we the People.” What “People” precisely are you referring to? Are you presuming to include me in that generalisation? As I don’t agree with your opinions, I would regard it as more honest if you stated which group of “People” you belong to. Perhaps you are an associate of Natacha Aguilar de Soto?
    Since there could be nothing more relevant than scientific studies to the issue of seismic surveys (“testing” is a pejorative word) and renewable energy, it begs the question to dismiss scientific studies as “All allegations of the usefulness of the science on this subject aside..”

  10. Natacha Aguilar de Soto says:

    Dear John, I am sorry to see that you are upset for my comments, it was not my intention. If I don´t answer more here is because I am already overbooked with teaching at the University, directing PhD students and doing actual science on marine mammals and also on the effects of underwater noise. I submitted two new papers to peer-reviewed journals this year…that takes some time… I left clear in the last comment that the text was just an extract from a review I made years ago…before the reports you mention. Please do not manipulate and stop making this conversation something personal.. I also left clear in my last comment that If you have any real claim about the science we do, please come and play in my ground…peer-reviewed literature. Let scientific journals be our judge. I just can not afford the time required to keep up with blogging, which seems to be your only work? Who pays for your time? So, bye for now, but do not take lack of answer as lack of arguments, it is just more important things to do, I am paid by a University to do education and science.

    • johnnwdhughes says:

      Dear Natacha, I do not know how you got the impression that I am upset by your comments. I am happy with them and mean it when I thank you, as they do confirm my assessment of your publication. You have again avoided addressing my original concerns about your publication and tried to change the topic but this time it is a combination of “unfortunately, I am busy doing more important things so cannot continue this discussion” and further distortion of what I actually said.
      As you ask a question (“Who pays for your time?”), I confirm that the time I spend writing and commenting on The Norwood Resource (TNR) website is entirely unpaid. You may wonder why? It is because I am dismayed at the misrepresentation of the facts and science in the media and even in peer-reviewed literature. I think the public and especially our younger generation, deserve a more balanced view of the facts and science.
      Nevertheless, although I am surprised that you no longer wish to (or perhaps cannot?) justify the results and applicability of your research to seismic surveys you are perfectly entitled to discontinue the discussion. Despite this, I will continue to comment on the misrepresentation of the facts and science wherever it occurs. Thus, I must point out that the reports I referred to regarding scallops were not in relation to your cut and pasted seismic survey review. They were in relation to the timing of your scallop publication. The two reports did pre-date your publication by a significant margin as follows:
      * November 2010: “Assessing the short-term impact of seismic surveys on adult commercial scallops (Pecten fumatus) in Bass Strait” which concluded that “There was no evidence of short-term (less than 2 months) impacts from the seismic surveys on the survival or health of adult Commercial Scallops.”; and
      * 2012: “Status of Scallop fishery report: ” which commented that “In 2010 the fishery experienced a widespread die-off and the cause is unknown.” This demonstrates there was scallop die-off in areas where no seismic surveys had occurred..
      However, your paper, the subject of my article and subsequent comments, was published in October 2013 following the manuscript being received in April 2013.
      In conclusion, I am certainly not upset by your comments. In fact, I am quite pleased with them and with this whole discussion string, as the content should demonstrate to any reasonable person that peer-reviewed papers often contain ideological propaganda in the guise of science.


  1. […] Is science manipulated by environmental groups and some researchers? […]

  2. […] of the sounds they would experience in the natural environment?  Incidentally, some of the “studies” she is presumably referring to have already been rebutted on this website.  Finally, why does she avoid admitting that there are no scientifically proven […]

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