Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Airgun Blasting Risks Blasting Marine Mammal Populations

As soon as June 1st, Rutgers University intends to begin a seismic study approximately 15 miles off of the coast of Long Beach Island, New Jersey. The study has been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which has permitted the “takings” of 18,457 marine mammals— 26 times more mammals than originally proposed — during the 30-day research period so long as these incidents are classified as “Level B Harassment” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, there is no scientific way to observe and assess all of the physical and physiological damage done to the populations of marine mammals to ensure that these damages do not surpass Level B Harassment into Level A Harassment.

According to the MMPA, Level B Harassment is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to disturb a marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, and sheltering, but which does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal stock in the wild.” This means the marine mammals that frequent waters off of the New Jersey coast this time of year will experience meaningful disruption to “biologically significant” activities, including, ­but not limited to­, migration, breeding, care of young, predator avoidance or defense, and feeding.

“Biologically significant” can be widely interpreted, but would encompass anything that affects the ability of an animal to grow, survive, and reproduce. Essentially, NMFS has given Rutgers the approval to cause harm to marine mammals off of the New Jersey coast so long as it does not harm enough of the population to cause what they would consider a steep decline in their numbers. In a few cases, the mammals they have permitted takings of are already on the endangered species list, such as Sei Whales and North Atlantic Right Whales, just to name a few. Their identification as endangered means that these species have been categorized by the International Union for Conservation as likely to become extinct, meaning that they are second only to the most severe conservation status, “critically endangered.”

The takings have been termed “insignificant” by NMFS, but the numbers that were approved tell a different story. NMFS has authorized the take of five Sei whales, which would make up nearly 1.5% of the mammal’s stock. This number might not seem significant at first, but when you consider the Sei whale’s current status as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, this number is appalling. Harm to even one animal that has been identified as endangered can negatively impact the longevity of its entire population worldwide.

Approved Dolphin Takes and Overall Impact on Species Population
Authorized Take
Percent of Species Stock
Bottlenose dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins
Risso’s dolphins

While the above table only shows the population and take numbers of three dolphin species, there are 29 more species that will be harmed, totaling 18,457 marine mammals including those dolphin species.  While the authorized torment of over 18,131 dolphins alone is unconscionable, this number becomes even more substantial when considering the recent morbillovirus that decimated bottlenose dolphin populations in the Atlantic, killing 1,660 dolphins between 2013 and 2015 alone. These dolphin populations, already in decline due to the devastating virus, will be put even more at risk after being subjected to unnecessary and inescapable airgun blasts during their peak mating season. The approved harassment numbers only get worse from there. The warm summer months are peak migration and mating times for marine mammals off of the coast of New Jersey, meaning that their populations will be even more heavily impacted than they would if these studies were conducted in the cooler winter months. 

Allowing for the harm, harassment, or torment of 18,457 marine mammals, 26 times more than proposed last year, is inexcusable. Please call or email Rutgers University President Barchi urging him to cancel the seismic study to avoid harm to marine mammals during peak summer months for migration and breeding.

Call: 848-932-7454

Join close to 20,000 concerned citizens opposing Rutgers Ocean blasting - sign our petition today!

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