Some of the world’s leading marine mammal scientists are calling on the New Zealand government to stop and ban seismic testing in the habitat of the world’s rarest sub-species of dolphin. With just 55 thought to be remaining the Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) lives off the west coast of North Island in New Zealand. The scientists believe that noise from the seismic testing could damage the hearing of the dolphins and also drive them into fishing grounds where they could be caught in nets.
In a letter to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) urges the government to immediately halt seismic testing in Maui’s dolphin habitat. With a membership of some 2,000 scientists from 60 countries, the SMM is the world’s largest professional body dedicated to research on marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them.
Fishing is the primary cause of death among the last 55 surviving Maui’s dolphins – which are the smallest as well as the rarest dolphins in the world. Gillnets and trawling kill about nine per cent of the population a year – that’s 75 times more than the sustainable limit.
The SMM highlights that a proposed seismic project in the US was rejected because of its expected
impact on an otherwise unthreatened population of more than 2,000 porpoises. The impact on the last 55 Maui’s dolphins could be devastating.
“Allowing this seismic testing thus appears inconsistent with the New Zealand Government’s stated goal of enabling this subspecies to recover,” writes SMM President Professor Helene Marsh.
Seismic testing involves blasting compressed air at the sea floor. The noise penetrates the sea bed and can help discover the make up of the seafloor and any potential oil and gas deposits. The blasts of air are released every 20 seconds or so and are released around the clock for weeks and even months at a time. [pullquote]We are strongly opposed to seismic testing in Maui’s dolphin habitat and support the use of renewable energy. Oil and gas exploration leads to oil and gas exploitation, which involves further dangers to the marine environment through offshore drilling, spills, leaks, and increased fossil fuel emissions[/pullquote]
“Twenty-four cetacean species have shown negative effects to marine noise pollution,” says NABU International’s Head of International Species Conservation, Dr. Barbara Maas.
“Noise is a well known stressor, not just for marine mammals. This means seismic testing is potentially dangerous, even if it doesn’t kill the dolphins outright.
“Chronic stress can heighten susceptibility to other threats and slow down population recovery by
suppressing reproduction and the immune system. It can even harm unborn dolphins prenatally, all of which Maui’s dolphins can ill afford.”
“NABU International is delighted that the SMM is speaking up about the urgent need to safeguard this desperately vulnerable species”, says Dr. Maas.
“We are strongly opposed to seismic testing in Maui’s dolphin habitat and support the use of renewable energy. Oil and gas exploration leads to oil and gas exploitation, which involves further dangers to the marine environment through offshore drilling, spills, leaks, and increased fossil fuel emissions.”
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