Is the Greenpeace NZ campaign against seismic surveys fraudulent?

It appears that the current campaign being waged by Greenpeace NZ is at best hysterically misinformed and, at worst, deliberate deception.  Greenpeace’s claims about the impacts of seismic surveys are so wildly incorrect, it surely leads most thinking people to conclude the latter (ie that they are perpetrating deliberate deception in the pursuit of donor funds).

Let’s have a brief look at some of their more outrageous claims:

1. Greenpeace claim: “These blasts are nearly as loud as the nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima“.  This is surely a deception of the most serious form as it ignores the facts and science.  As can be seen in an article already published on this website, drawn from readily available information, comparing seismic sounds with typical sounds in water (and air), a typical seismic source is approximately 230dB whereas an atomic explosion is 248dB in air BUT 310dB in water.  Thus, an atomic explosion such as Hiroshima, is more than 8192 times louder than a typical seismic pulse.  This is very different from Greenpeace NZ’s claim that seismic pulses are “nearly as loud” as atomic explosions.  Furthermore, seismic sounds are no different from many common natural sounds in the ocean, including humpback breaching and the sound of calving/colliding icebergs.

2. Greenpeace claim: “…even if it were dramatically quieter, the sound alone would be enough to kill a human“.  This is also totally false!  A human has never been killed by the sound from a seismic survey.  Humans work, relax and sleep on seismic vessels while the seismic source is activated.  If a sound as loud as the Hiroshima nuclear bomb occurred every 10 seconds near the seismic vessel surely humans could not withstand such noise impacts, letalone work, relax and sleep.

3. Greenpeace claim: “…whales and dolphins can’t hear one another or find food and in extreme cases, it could lead to strandings and death.” Again, this is totally false.  In over 40 years of using compressed air to generate seismic survey pulses there are no examples of whales and dolphins stranding or being killed.  However, this is not enough evidence for Greenpeace – they still prefer to believe it “could” happen, even if it has not.  Similarly, it is inconceivable that whales and dolphins cannot hear one another in the presence of seismic surveys as i) those species that do vocalise (eg sperm whales, dolphins, blue whales) are generally identifiable on passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) systems run during seismic surveys and; ii) many species spend the summer months in soundscapes, such as the Antarctic waters that, due to calving/colliding icebergs, have similar sound frequencies, periodicities and loudness to seismic surveys.  Furthermore, species such as sperm whales use vocalisations (clicks) as loud as 235dB in their foraging for prey.  Thus, how can seismic survey sounds significantly lower than this sound level at the location of the animal and prey prevent them from feeding?  For example, at just 128m from a 230dB source the received level would be 188dB, significantly lower than the 235dB at which sperm whales vocalise.

Given the highly inaccurate claims made by Greenpeace, one is left to consider why they are deceiving a caring and giving community.  These claims, given they are so outlandish, could be interpreted as deliberate fraud.  If any business were to make fraudulent statements in pursuit of their objectives (ie to make sales as opposed to collect donations) they would be subject to the full force of the law.  However, it would appear that Greenpeace believe they can operate outside the law in both their advertising and their very physical campaigns.

The Norwood Resource suggests that anyone who reads Greenpeace NZ’s campaign material should consider it carefully and, in the case of a regulator, take action but, in the case of the wider community, ignore it.





  1. johnnwdhughes says:

    Thanks for your comment KeoMac.
    Yes, I have seen it.
    It is simply more misinformation from Greenpeace.
    For example:
    1. Greenpeace state “Evidence from marine scientists around the world suggests that seismic testing is bad for whales and dolphins.” Note the careful use of the word “suggests”. This is despite over 4 decades of seismic surveying around the world, including NZ, with NO evidence that whale or dolphin populations have been harmed.
    2. Greenpeace state “In extreme cases, it could cause physical damage or severe disorientation that could lead to drowning or strandings and death.” Again, note the careful use of the word “could”. In over 4 decades, there have been no cases.
    3. Greenpeace base their unsubstantiated claims on a 2007 report which is definitely not a research study but could be considered marketing material attempting to justify the use of passive or active acoustic monitoring for the detection of whales and dolphins. Could this be a conflict of interest?
    4. In any case, the distances quoted by Greenpeace from the report (….lethal range underwater……at seven metres and injury range of 53 metres) are totally misleading as the greater risk at these distances would be collision and not sonar injury. There are many proven cases of whale & dolphin deaths from collisions with marine vessels but, giving their slow moving nature and the fact they emit alerting signals, none from seismic vessels.
    Finally, Greenpeace themselves have been “schtum” since I published this article two months ago. I would be happy to debate the facts and science with them in public but obviously they are not.

    • Thanks John, maybe it’s worth posting something on the greenpeace page, Liz Slooten seems to be getting her two cents worth in..

      taken from….

      To add to the brief discussion above, about the potential impacts of seismic air guns on marine mammals.

      The impacts of human-made noise on marine mammals have been well documented, and include:
      * Death

      * Injury
      * Stress
      * Avoidance (including migration route shifts)
      * Other behavioural changes

      For relevant research to back this up, see published research by Howard Gray and Koen van Waerebeek (2011 see link above) in Journal for Nature Conservation, Volume 19, pages 363-367. There are several other relevant scientific papers in the reference list of that article. In particular, Fernandez et al. (2004, 2005); Jepson et al. (2003); Gordon et al. (2003); Bateson (2007); Romano et al. (2004); Goold (1996); Richardson et al. (1999); Weir (2008) and Bowles et al. (1994).


  1. […] the anti-scientific stand made by Greenpeace and many other eNGOs in articles such as “Is the Greenpeace NZ campaign against seismic surveys fraudulent?“, “Is the eNGO campaign against BP’s Bight drilling program deceptive” and […]

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