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A company called Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, based at Columbia University in New York, have applied to carry out extensive seismic surveys in the sea off Taiwan, the Philippines, China and Japan, to study geological features. These kinds of surveys use air gun arrays to send sound waves through the water, which are reflected back off surfaces and give information about the seabed. These activities have effects, which are not fully understood but are certainly damaging, on cetaceans, and probably all kinds of other marine life.
We were asked by other organisations to express our concern to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the US who are considering the proposals, and to the US consul general here in HK.
We may also put our signature on letters from other organisations such as the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) in the US, and the Taiwanese Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.
Conservation and Education Division
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service,
1315 East-West Highway,
Silver Spring, MD, 20910-3225, USA
Copy to: the US Consul General, Hong Kong
2 February 2009
Dear Mr Payne,
My name is Mark Jones, I am a British veterinarian and animal welfare director at Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong based NGO dedicated to improving the welfare of all animals across Asia. In 2008 I completed a Master of Science degree in Wild Animal Health in London, which included a research project on threats to cetaceans.
We were disturbed to learn of the proposals from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (L- DEO) to carry out extensive seismic surveys in South East Asia from March-July 2009 (ref RIN 0648-XL89, Federal Register vol. 73 No. 246, page 4) . We understand that the period for comment on these proposals has been extended to February 5th 2009.
The type and extent of the proposed surveys risks disturbing cetaceans of a number of species, many of which are poorly understood, and one sub-population of which (the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis) is listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the seas around the Philippines, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Mass strandings involving live and dead beaked whales (family Ziphidae) and other cetaceans in a wide variety of locations, including the Taiwanese coast, have been associated spatially and temporally with naval exercises and seismic surveys (Frantzis 1998, Engel et al. 2004, Cox et al. 2006).
The impacts of seismic air gun noise on cetaceans and other marine species are poorly understood, but may include direct physical damage to auditory and other structures, disruption of behaviour leading to decompression anomalies, and indirect effects on prey species behaviour (Gordon et al. 2004). Effects may potentially occur over distances of tens or even hundreds of kilometers (Gordon et al. 2004), and the real impact of such activities may never be accurately predicted or known (Marine Mammal Commission 2007).
The concern over anthropogenic noise and its potential effect on cetaceans has led to repeated resolutions by multinational groups and organizations including the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS 2006), the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black and Mediterranean Seas (ACCOBAMS 2004), and the European Commission (2004), for member countries to take precautionary mitigating measures, although to date there has been a continuing failure of most countries to do so (Parsons et al 2008).
Given the large volume of evidence for the association between anthropogenic noise and disturbance in cetaceans and other marine mammals, a precautionary approach is surely required (as recommended by Gordon et al. 2004). We urge you to consider the application from L-DEO with this, and the findings and recommendations of the independent reviews of the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) and others, in mind.
Mark Jones BVSc MSc(Stir) MSc(London) MRCVS, Veterinarian
Animal Welfare Director
Animals Asia Foundation
Tel: (852) 2791 2225
Fax: (852) 2791 2320
Email: [email protected]
ACCOBAMS. 2004. Resolution 2.16: Assessment and impact assessment of man-made noise. 2 pages. Second meeting of the ACCOBAMS contracting parties. ACCOBAMS, Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
ASCOBANS. 2006. Resolution No. 4: Adverse effects of sound, vessels and other forms of disturbance on small cetaceans. 2 pages in ASCOBANS ed. Fifth meeting of the parties to ASCOBANS. ASCOBANS, The Netherlands.
COX, T. M., T. J. RAGEN, A. J. READ, E. VOS, R. W. BAIRD, K. BALCOMB, J. BARLOW, J. CALDWELL, T. CRANFORD, L. CRUM, A. D'AMICO, G. D'SPAIN, A. FERNANDEZ, J. FINNERAN, R. GENTRY, W. GERTH, F. GULLAND, J. HILDEBRAND, D. HOUSER, T. HULLAR, P. D. JEPSON, D. KETTEN, C. D. MACLEOD, P. MILLER, S. MOORE, D. C. MOUNTAIN, D. PALKA, P. PONGANIS, S. ROMMEL, T. ROWLES, B. TAYLOR, P. TYACK, D. WARTZOK, R. GISINER, J. MEAD and L. BENNER. 2006. Understanding the impacts of anthropogenic sound on beaked whales. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 7: 177-187.
ENGEL, M. H., M. C. C. MARCONDES, C. C. A. MARTINS, F. O. LUNA, R. P. LIMA and A. CAMPOS. 2004. Are seismic surveys responsible for cetacean strandings? An unusual mortality of adult humpback whales in Abrolhos Bank, Northeastern coast of Brazil. 8 pages. International Whaling Commission, Sorrento, Italy.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2004. European Parliament resolution on the environmental effects of high-intensity active naval sonars. 2 pages. B6-0089/2004.
http://www.awionline.org/oceans/Noise/IONC/Docs/EU_Res-2004.pdf, European Commission.
FRANTZIS, A. 1998. Does acoustic testing strand whales? Nature 392: 29.
GORDON, J., D. GILLESPIE, J. POTTER, A. FRANTZIS, M.P. SIMMONDS, R. SWIFT AND D.THOMPSON. 2004. A review of the effects of seismic surveys on marine mammals. Marine technology society journal 37 (4): 16-34
MARINE MAMMAL COMMISSION. 2007a. Marine mammals and noise: a sound approach to research and management. 370 pages. Marine Mammal Commission report to congress.
PARSONS, E. C. M., S. J. DOLMAN, A. J. WRIGHT, N. A. ROSE and W. C. G. BURNS. 2008. Navy sonar and cetaceans: Just how much does the gun need to smoke before we act? Marine Pollution Bulletin 56: 1248-1257.