Ecologists urge oil and gas companies to save the rarest whale in the world
Besides commercial whaling was banned in 1986 the gray whales are still under threats. Critically endangered marine mammals migrate into their summer feeding grounds near Sakhalin Island, Russia in late May or early June and return to their winter feeding grounds in the South China Sea in late autumn.
Unfortunately, gray whales feeding area at the Sakhalin north-east marine coast attracted oil industry as well. Since the middle of the 1990s whales share their habitat with two oil and gas production projects: Sakhalin-1 (operator Exxon Neftegas Limited Company, ENL, with Rosneft, ONGC and SODECO involved in the project) and Sakhalin-2 (operator Sakhalin Energy Investment Ltd. Company).
“Our major concern today is Sakhalin-1. ENL plans construction of Temporary Unloading Facilities in Piltun split. Pile installation and intense navigation through gray whales feeding area will cause extremely high noise impact on the whales. Last year we organized public environmental expert review which found out the company had to stop the project and use alternative route for cargo delivering to the bay”, says Dmitriy Lisitsyn, leader of ‘Sakhalin Environment Watch’.
“The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission and IUCN Gray Whale Advisory Panel confirmed the conclusion of the review”, noticed IFAW campaigner Anna Filippova. “But Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment gave approval for seismic exploration in the region in summer 2015 both to Exxon and Sakhalin Energy”.
“Now we are trying to convince oil and gas companies - shareholders of Sakhalin 1 to continue discussion of the alternative development of the project with scientific and environmental society. As a minimum we must prevent dangerous and noisy piling works in Piltun split”, says Alexey Knizhnikov, WWF-Russia oil and gas programme coordinator.
Meanwhile other projects are in progress: Rosneft started to explore Odoptu and Lebedinskiy oil fields and Gazprom began to explore Vostochno-Odoptinsky oil field.
Shelf oil production may result in many risks for the whales and the organisms they feed: oil spill, disturbing sound effect of seismic exploration and platform exploitation, intense navigation and helicopter flights at the area of oilfields.
Whales are very sensitive to noise and such industrial activities generate massive underwater booms. The gray whale must get an entire year’s worth of food during those summer months and any disruption could have significant impact on this process.