Everyone remembers the stories of whales that became victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but now it seems that the world’s whale population could be under new threat – that of Russian oil exploration in the Sakhalin island region.

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Sakhalin, located in the Arctic Circle, has long been known for its massive oil and gas fields which the Russians aim to take advantage of. While everyone knows the risks of drilling, it seems that surveying is causing problems for the local gray whale population.

According to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Russian survey teams using seismic devices to look for oil and gas reserves are threatening the whales that feed in the area during the summer months.

The Russians have said that they are taking measures not to disturb the whales, but the IWC have said it is not enough. With only 130 gray whales left in the oceans, the IWC believes that the risk against the ceteceans is too great to ignore.

As a result, the IWC’s scientific committee have recommended that “appropriate monitoring and mitigation plans” should be implemented for oil and gas exploration in the area. All survey teams have been urged to work with independent scientists to “co-ordinate seismic surveys and other noise producing activities”.

Russia’s vast oil and gas reserves supply a huge majority of the world’s countries and account for almost half of the EU’s natural gas imports and 30 percent of its oil supplies. It is a sad fact that a lot of the world is still reliant on Russia’s energy exports and this doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.

Speaking to the BBC, Russian IWC delegate Valentin Ilyashenko said all oil and gas projects had to go through an impact assessment, however some effects on the whales could not be avoided.

“Human activities do influence the western gray whale; our task is to minimise the impact from human activities,” he said. “But we can’t stop [human] progress, and we can’t stop using oil.”

It is believed that the seismic surveys create sounds of such intensity that it can damage the whales’ hearing and drive them out of the area, ultimately seriously disturbing their feeding and breeding patterns.

+ International Whaling Commission (IWC)

via BBC News

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