The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP), composed of 11 scientists and representatives from Shell and Sakahlin Energy, met in April to discuss how oil and gas development affect the whales’ main annual feeding area off the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia.
The scientists found that in 2008 there was a large decrease in the number of whales in their annual feeding area near the shore during a period of loud industrial activity, including a seismic survey. This is significant because if the whales are displaced from this primary annual feeding area, they will have less success reproducing.
“Western gray whale cows with their calves feed near the shore, but the industrial noise resulting from oil and gas development activities is pushing them out of the area,” Doug Norlen from Pacific Environment. “Any disturbance of these critically endangered whales’ behavior is particularly concerning as there are only 130 of them left.'
However, Exxon, BP and Rosneft have refused to address their threats to the Western Gray Whale and these oil giants plan to carry out further activities in 2009 including seismic testing, construction and other loud activities that could displace whales from their annual feeding area.
“The new information presented at this meeting has heightened rather than diminished the Panel’s concern that whale distribution and behaviour may have been seriously affected by industrial activities – on land and offshore - in 2008,” according to the panel’s report.
Meanwhile, 35,000 people from across the world have signed on to a petition calling on five major oil companies including Exxon, BP and Rosneft to postpone any new development work in the vicinity of the Western Gray Whale feeding area this summer, and to work with experts find adequate measures to protect the critically endangered population.
WWF is sending the petitions to oil companies this week, urging them to act immediately as the gray whales will start to arrive at their summer feeding area near Sakhalin in a couple of weeks.
“Tens of thousands of people are calling on Exxon, BP and Rosneft to immediately halt their potentially destructive activities at Sakhalin Island this summer, and these companies can either choose to act responsibly or stay their course and help push the western gray whale further toward extinction,” said Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia.
The panel reiterated it call for a moratorium on all development activities in the area this summer. Because of those concerns, Sakhalin Energy - a partnership between Shell, Gasprom and other sharholders – agreed in April to cancel their proposed 2009 seismic activities in the whales’ feeding area.
The Western Gray Whale is one of the world’s most endangered whales, with only 25-30 breeding females remaining.