60-Second Earth

Air-Gun Oil Exploration Wrongs Right Whales

The U.S. government has given industry permission to use of lethally loud seismic devices up and down the east coast. David Biello reports

[Audio of blast] That's an air gun. By exploding compressed air underwater, scientists map the subsurface of the seafloor. The process can reveal new deposits of fossil fuels and other important information—and now industry has permission to use air guns off the U.S. east coast. Which means more dead whales.
Cetaceans and other marine life rely on their ears to navigate. Air guns deafen them, if not kill them outright, as the U.S. Department of the Interior admits. The sound is 250 decibels or more, much louder than a jet engine.*
At risk are cetaceans like the North Atlantic right whales. Five hundred or fewer remain. They'll have something like dynamite going off in their oceanic living room every 10 seconds for days or even weeks at a time now.
Alternatives exist, from seafloor vibration-producers to revamped air guns that produce less sound but equally good images. Such choices might provide a little more peace and quiet in what's become a very noisy ocean.

—David Biello

Correction (3/14/14): This transcript was edited after posting to reflect the deletion of a sentence from the recorded version of the original podcast that erroneously linked air-gun testing by ExxonMobil to a whale beaching incident in Madagascar.

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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