Humpback whale and seismic array
During the last 10 days, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) has aided and abetted environmental organisations like Pew, IFAW and the Greens in what is best described by quoting ex-Federal Resources Minister, Gary Gray, as “spreading fear and confusion to achieve a dramatic media-driven objective.”
A series of biased articles have been published by SMH but it appears that they are not willing to publish any alternative views based on facts and science.
On 16 April the article entitled “Marine sanctuaries face new mining threat after permits issued for petroleum exploration” by Lisa Cox was published. I wrote the following letter to the Editor on 16 April:
“Deceptive Fear Campaigns
I write to you as a semi-retired geophysicist with an in-depth understanding of the facts and science regarding seismic surveys and marine life.
I read with alarm the attempts by the Pew Foundation to hijack reasonable discussion on Australia’s marine reserves in the article “Marine sanctuaries face new mining threat after permits issued for petroleum exploration” by Lisa Cox, April 16, 2015.
Pew’s claims bear no resemblance to reality. During the last 40 years there has been no credible evidence that seismic survey sounds have resulted in negative impacts on marine life. For example, on the NW Shelf of Australia, the humpback whale population has increased at a rate close to biological maximum, from 5-600 in the mid-1960’s to over 20,000 in 2012. Thus, the development of the NW Shelf as an important petroleum production province during the same period obviously had no negative impact on the humpback population. How can Pew ignore this?
Other statements made by Ms Grady, such as the comparison with dynamite, are equally false.
The management of Australia’s marine estate must be based on robust science and evidence – not fear campaigns by professional activists.”
I could have challenged more of Ms Grady’s outrageous claims in my letter but needed to keep it as short as possible to achieve potential publication. However, as I have no such limitations in this article, I will take her to task on her claim that seismic is “like sitting in your living room and having dynamite go off every 10 seconds for weeks at a time.” Her comparison is totally invalid and hence misleading, for the following reasons:
1.The seismic vessel moves at about 8km/hr (ie definitely NOT stationary) and the marine life move about (ie definitely not sedentary in a “living room”);
2.The seismic array operates at 2000 psi whereas an underwater dynamite explosion generates pressure of 3,000,000 psi. That’s quite a difference! and
3.The source definitely does not go off “every 10 seconds for weeks at a time” as explained in the article entitled “Do seismic surveys really result in sound pulses 24 hrs/day 7 days/week?” on this website.
The first SMH article was quickly followed up on 16 April with an article entitled “Seismic shift for blue whales” by Andrew Darby and Lisa Cox. This was also full of misinformed comment so I wrote the following letter to the SMH editor on 19 April:
Claims about blue whales already proved inaccurate
I write to you as a semi-retired geophysicist with an in-depth understanding of the facts and science regarding seismic surveys and marine life, including blue whales and seismic surveys in the Bonney Upwelling.
I was surprised to see the article entitled “Seismic shift for blue whales” by Andrew Darby & Lisa Cox, April 16, 2015, as many of the claims made by the various parties had already been aired in an article by Andrew Darby entitled “Fears for whales over energy hunt“, published in your newspaper on November 15, 2002 (yes, 2002!).
The passage of time clearly demonstrates that the claims of “dire consequences” made by environmentalists at that time did not eventuate.
Despite extensive seismic surveying, exploration/development drilling and the development of 3 gas fields in SW Victorian waters since 2002, the blue whale population has not been shown to be adversely affected.
This is clearly demonstrated by the fact the greatest number of blue whales sighted offshore Victoria by the Blue Whale Study on any one day during 2002-2007 was 43, whereas 70 blue whales were sighted in December 2012.
Unfortunately, the deceptive fear campaigns by these professional lobby groups ignore, or worse still, distort the facts and science.
Thus, the community should ignore the false claims by these groups.”
Subsequently, on 25 April, SMH published “Seismic testing begins in sensitive marine parks begins despite government claims” by Lisa Cox. The article merely repeated many of the false claims made by these environmental groups such as Ms Grady’s claim that “seismic testing caused stress and disorientation for marine life and could lead to physical injury for endangered species.” when there is NO evidence in over 4 decades of seismic surveying using compressed air that this has occurred.
The facts tell us that the claims made by the likes of Pew and IFAW are false (eg. the 20,000 humpback whales that frequent the NW Shelf each year are not a figment of anyone’s imagination) and the science tells us why. Much of this science, such as other sounds in the ocean, the sounds of breaching whales, Antarctic ice sounds, the reaction of cetaceans to seismic sounds, attenuation of sound in water, etc, is covered in articles on this website. Perhaps this is why seismic personnel often see whales and dolphins in the vicinity of the operating seismic source, as shown in this photograph:
Given the lack of adverse impacts it is clearly evident that SMH and the environmental groups it is aiding and abetting, are intent on misleading a caring and giving public for reasons other than the well-being of marine life.
It is obvious that SMH is unwilling to publish alternative viewpoints on this issue and, given that the environmental groups are making claims that are not supported by the facts and science, Mark Twain’s famous quote about newspapers surely applies: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”