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Canadian Survey Receives Go-Ahead from Court

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A  Canadian court has declined to issue a stay to prevent the vents survey from continuing.  The ship has reached the research area, and has begun the planned project, which involves laying bottom-mounted receivers and doing ten days of airgun shots.  In the course of the short legal brouhaha, it came out that the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs had essentially lost Columbia University’s application for Foreign Ship clearance from February until mid-July, thus contributing to the lack of time for all concerned parties to respond to the plans prior to these hectic pre-cruise days.  An amended permit application from Columbia, submitted the day after the initial lawsuit was filed, was accepted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans; it aims to avoid exposing any whales to more than 160dB of sound, which creates an effective “exclusion zone” of nearly 7km (which should easily protect the critically endangered North Pacific right whales that EcoJustice mentioned in a TV interview, as they summer in Alaskan waters). The 7km exclusion zone is rather shocking, as only last May I participated in a DFO seismic mitigation expert committee meeting at which the oil and gas industry and agency staff were fully content with 500m exclusion zones, except in especially rich and sensitive whale habitat, where the most extensive exclusion zones were, as I recall, 2.5km.  What sorts of magical powers will be employed by Marine Mammal Observers aboard the Langseth to effectively observe at this super-human distance, was not detailed by the DFO. In any case, the relative lack of whales in this region this time of year should mean that disruption is minimal, though some may well hear and avoid the survey; various species seem to avoid seismic sounds at different distances, from a kilometer or two for most species to 20-30km for belugas and bowhead whales (neither of which occur in this region).  Read the earlier AEInews post covering this incident here. Recent news reports can be read here and here.

2 Responses to “Canadian Survey Receives Go-Ahead from Court”

  1. Thriving Oceans » Blog Archive » The Salty Scoop - Week 1 Says:

    […] Canadian Survey Receives Go-Ahead from Court (Aug 27) […]

  2. Douglas Toomey Says:

    Scientists from the University of Oregon and the University of Washington have successfully completed ~16 days of seismic surveying at the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca ridge, a region that includes the Endeavour Marine Protected Area (MPA). The Endeavour MPA was established to facilitate scientific study of a deep-sea hydrothermal ecosystem. Results of the environmental research will have direct societal benefits, including an improved understanding of the life-cycle of deep-sea vents, of the importance of the MPA as a long-term species reservoir for the entire northeast Pacific spreading ridge system, and of how the structure of ocean crust and the Juan de Fuca plate contributes to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic hazards that threaten the Pacific Northwest.

    The seismic surveying used the full 36-element, 6600 cu. in. airgun array of the R/V Marcus G. Langseth. Prior to sailing, the survey underwent a thorough environmental assessment by Canadian and U.S. regulators and the timing of the expedition was chosen to minimize marine mammal encounters. During the survey, certified Marine Mammal Observers monitored the region on a 24-hour per-day basis. Not a single marine mammal was either visually observed or acoustically detected during the seismic survey.

    The low abundance of marine mammals in this region comes as no surprise to knowledgeable experts. Nevertheless, prior to conducting this successful environmental research, activist groups including EcoJustice, the Living Oceans Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society repeatedly claimed that the Endeavour MPA was a refuge for whales. These erroneous claims were propagated by individuals with a poor knowledge of the habits of marine mammals and a poor grasp of the established practices for permitting research that benefits society as well as the conservation, protection and understanding of a Marine Protected Area.