Coast KZN

05 Aug 2016

Dead whales raise fears of oil exploration underwater blasts

Tony Carnie (The Mercury)

The carcass of a young humpback whale, top, that washed up near Mtunzini last week. Below is a second, badly decomposed whale carcass that washed up near the Amatikulu Nature Reserve on Sunday. Photo Credit: Raymond Meyer

Two dead whales have washed up on the Zululand coast, sparking speculation that their deaths might be related to an oil exploration venture which involves powerful underwater sound blasts.

However, the KwaZuluNatal Sharks Board has noted that four to six dead whales wash up along the KZN coastline each year for a variety of reasons, and cautioned against assumptions that the most recent deaths were related to a 3D seismic exploration expedition by the Texas-based Schlumberger exploration group.

The carcass of a young humpback whale was photographed south of Mtunzini last Thursday by local residents Raymond Meyer and Claire Campbell. On Sunday they found the remains of a second, badly-decomposed, whale at Dokodweni, near the Amatikulu Nature Reserve.

KZN Sharks Board officials noted that it was “not uncommon” for whale carcasses to wash up along the coast during the whale migration season (June to mid-December), and that deaths could be due to ship strikes, disease, predation or natural causes.

They said that judging by its floppy fins, one of the dead whales appeared to be newborn or just a few days old.

It could not be established yesterday if post-mortem examinations would be done to determine the cause of death.


However, Durban-based Greenpeace activist Delwyn Pillay and other concerned conservationists have raised questions about a possible connection to an oil exploration survey off the North Coast involving seismic blasting.

Two months ago, environmental consultants for the Schlumberger oil exploration group sent out a circular advising that bad weather and strong currents had delayed the completion of a 3D seismic survey off KZN and the survey was expected to continue into the whale migration season.

To minimise possible impacts to whales, dolphins and other sensitive creatures, the 3D survey crew would implement mitigating strategies. All seismic shooting would be stopped temporarily if whales, sea turtles or fish shoals were spotted within 500m of the seismic survey vessel.

Seismic surveys involve “shooting” loud underwater sound blasts to build up images of the ocean floor that may contain oil and gas reserves.

Seven years ago, the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission cautioned that seismic surveys were a “serious concern”.

The committee said there was an increase in humpback whale strandings along the Brazilian coastline, and evidence of grey whales fleeing their feeding grounds near Sakhalin Island during seismic surveys.

Another report, from Dr Lindy Weilgart of Dalhousie University in Canada, concluded that human-induced noise in the sea could be detected as far as 4 000km away and that at least 37 species of marine life were sensitive to seismic noise.

Claire Alborough of Environmental Resources Management (consultants for the seismic exploration) did not respond to questions.


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