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Seismic Air Guns Off MD Coast Could Harm Sea Life & Fishing Industry

PHOTO: Loud seismic air gun blasts could damage sea life and fisheries in the Atlantic. Photo credit: Natural Resources Canada.
PHOTO: Loud seismic air gun blasts could damage sea life and fisheries in the Atlantic. Photo credit: Natural Resources Canada.
July 23, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Sea life in the Atlantic could be in for a very unpleasant surprise, according to the group Oceana. They say seismic air gun blasts, which are a precursor to deep-water oil drilling, could be shot over and over again for months on end in a wide area of the sea off the southeastern coast of the U.S.

Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist with Oceana, said the underwater blasts are so loud they could be damaging to dolphins, whales, fish and the fishing industry as a whole. The air guns are towed behind ships and emit loud blasts for seismic probing of the sea floor in search of oil and gas.

"So imagine dynamite going off in your living room every ten seconds for days to weeks on end," Huelsenbeck said. "Similar impacts would happen to you as they would happen to marine life. You could get injured, or at the very least you're going to have to leave your home."

Huelsenbeck stated that, according to a government study, the action could injure more than 130,000 whales and dolphins in the area where the seismic exploration is being proposed, in the Atlantic from Delaware to Florida. He said that especially troubling is potential harm to the critically-endangered North Atlantic right whales. There are only about 500 of the species left alive, and they are very susceptible to sound.

According to Huelsenbeck, this technology has been used in the past, and has been detrimental to the fishing industry. Some 222,000 jobs in the coastal fishing and seafood industries could be disrupted.

"Over the short term, a decrease in catch rates after seismic air guns have gone off" has been observed, he said. "There was a decrease between 40 and 80 percent over a period of five days in certain areas. And in many areas over the world, people have sought compensation for their losses."

Huelsenbeck said there are new and safer alternatives to the seismic air guns for undersea exploration.

Oceana had a 50-member bipartisan coalition in Congress write letters to President Obama and the Secretary of the Interior opposing seismic testing in the Atlantic. They will hold informational forums in cities from Delaware to Florida about seismic testing in August and September. The Department of the Interior is expected to finalize its review of the project by the fall.

More information is at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MD