The opinion piece by Sarah Hansen-Young in the Adelaide Advertiser on April 27, along with recent articles in the KI Islander reporting her claims and those of the KI Council and Wilderness Society,so obviously ignores the facts and scientific evidence that it leads any reasonable person who is aware of the facts and science to conclude that they are deliberately designed to misinform the community.

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

1. Sarah Hansen-Young starts off by saying “The Great Australian Bight is a pristine, beautiful sanctuary, like nowhere else on Earth“. It may be like nowhere else on earth but is it pristine? The facts show the Bight has suffered from over-fishing (even Southern Bluefin Tuna is considered endangered) and, of course, the decimation of whale populations during Australia’s whaling era (which did not end in Australia until 1978 with the closure of the Albany whaling station in WA). The Southern Right Whale and Blue Whale populations are still recovering from the whaling era. Meanwhile, Hansen-Young claims that seismic surveys will devastate marine life in the Bight but conveniently ignores the fact that there has been a significant level of seismic activity, plus some exploratory drilling, conducted in the Bight since the ’60’s. During the last period of seismic surveys from 2011 to 2015 a total of 44,000 sq km of 3D seismic coverage were acquired to add to the approximately 122,000km of line coverage acquired up to 2011. The following figure shows the widespread nature of that seismic coverage up to 2011.

Fig1: Seismic & Drilling activity in SA Bight to 2011 - 122,000 line km of seismic coverage & 12 exploration wells

Fig1: Seismic & Drilling activity in SA Bight to 2011 – 122,000 line km of seismic coverage & 12 exploration wells

In the above figure, the yellow lines are 2D seismic traverses (note the traverses in Spencers Gulf and the Gulf of St Vincent), the yellow polygon on the left is a 3D survey, the red “inverted raindrops” are drilled wells.

Given Hansen-Young claims this area is still pristine, she must also be acknowledging that the petroleum activity has not had any environmental impact on the area!

2. She goes on to say “The sound of these (seismic) tests is louder than at the centre of an atomic bomb and it occurs  every 10 seconds“.  This claim is particularly egregious given it is totally contradicted by the facts and science and therefore demonstrates the contempt with which the Senator is treating the Community with her misinformation. A few examples follow to demonstrate how incorrect she is:

a. Seismic sounds are similar in loudness to the sounds of cracking, calving and colliding icebergsand, remarkably, whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, etc have no problems living in such waters.

b. A seismic pulse, heard at just 68m from the source,  is actually similar to the sound a humpback whale would hear from its own breaching activities. Of course, 68m from the seismic source, which is towed behind the vessel, is within the collision zone, so most whales avoid getting this close the the source – except for those inquisitive ones like the one in the linked article!

c. The vocalisation of a sperm whale, at 236dB, is similar to the sound level at the centre of a seismic array. See link to the article entitled “Comparison of Seismic Sounds with Typical Examples of Sounds in Water and Air

d. The above linked article also demonstrates that Senator Hansen-Young has conveniently (perhaps deliberately?) overlooked the 62dB difference between sounds of the same level in water and air. She has presumably also taken a value for a seismic array which is theoretical based on all the 20-30 compressed air elements in an array being at the same point (which is physically impossible) and hence giving a theoretical sound level value of 250-260dB. An atomic bomb in airat 248dB is equivalent to 310dB in water and, given the dB scale is logarithmic (each 6dB step is a doubling or halving of sound level), is over 8000 times louder than an actual  232dB seismic pulse in water. 

In conclusion, this claim is so incorrect one wonders how Hansen-Young has the temerity to make it. Common sense would indicate that the crew on a seismic vessel could not work or sleep a few hundred metres from “an atomic bomb going off every 10 seconds”

3. She then goes on to claim “The tests wipe out small organisms like plankton, causing an enormous ripple effect on the ecosystem“.  Well, Senator Hansen-Young, given the activity that has occurred in the Bight, please explain how the “enormous ripple effect on the ecosystem” manifested itself and how was it measured? Ironically, she and those at KI Council and Wilderness who aid and abet her in her claims, are referring to a research paper entitled “Widely used marine seismic survey air gun operations negatively impact zooplankton” published in Nature Ecology and Evolution in June 2017. While a detailed critique of this research will not be provided in this short article, the research has not been widely accepted by the expert scientific community as it has not been replicated and suffers from small sample sizes and significant day-to-day variability in both the baseline and experimental data and a number of speculative conclusions that appear inconsistent with the data collected.

In addition, the conclusions drawn in the above research paper simply do not sit comfortably with the facts that even crew members on seismic vessels experience during operations. The biggest problem seismic operations crews have, especially in relatively warm waters, is removing barnacle growth from the trailing equipment (both the source array and the streamers which contains the sound sensors) behind the seismic vessel. The following photo shows the extent of barnacle growth that can occur on depth controller on a streamer.

Fig 2 Barnacle growth on a seismic streamer

Fig 2 Barnacle growth on a seismic streamer

Bear in mind that the zooplankton that settle on this trailing equipment has passed the vessel (and its propulsion equipment) and the source array (and its seismic pulses) and thrived while the survey is continuing.

Again, the Senator’s claims, based on a rather dubious research paper which cannot be classified as good science*, and fly in the face of the most basic facts, lack any degree of credibility and appear to be treating the Community with contempt.

4. Finally, she also propagates the false claims made by activist groups at the time that “After previous testing in the Bight, a pod of sperm whales beached themselves at Ardrossan. None survived“. This claim was investigated by NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority) at the time and their findings were  published in the 2015 Issue 3 of The Regulator as shown below:

Fig 3 Page 11 extracted from NOPSEMA's 2015 Issue 3 of The Regulator

Fig 3 Page 11 extracted from NOPSEMA’s 2015 Issue 3 of The Regulator

In particular, please note the statement “From the information obtained during the investigation, no evidence was found to suggest there was a likely correlation between offshore petroleum activities undertaken in the region and the stranding

Is this yet another example of the Senator deliberately using newspapers to misinform the Community?

In conclusion, given the rather extreme claims made by the Senator and those such as KI Council and Wilderness Society who assist her in those claims, one can only conclude that they are deliberately designed to misinform.

* As per Geoffrey Harold Sherrington “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.