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Groups Seek Court Order to Block Seismic Blasting in Atlantic Ocean
February 23, 2019

North Atlantic right whale #2791 swims with her calf amidst a large group of cannonball jellyfish off the coast of Fernandina Beach, Florida on January 6, 2019. #2791 and her calf were the first of seven mother/calf pairs sighted so far this season and the first in two years for the species. The seven new calves and their mothers would be at the most risk from the seismic blasting.
credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, permit #20556-01

A coalition of environmental and animal protection groups have joined together with coastal communities and an organization advocating for small businesses to seek a court order that would block the proposed seismic blasting off the coast of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. We wrote a detailed report about the seismic blasting proposal in December of 2018 and updated it a few days later with news about the lawsuit against the proposal. That lawsuit is still working its way through the court but it's feared that the blasting could begin before a ruling on that legal challenge, possibly as early as March 30th, so this court order is being sought to immediately block the blasting from starting so that all of the species threatened by the blasting can be safe while the lawsuit is resolved. We also wrote about how oil permits were temporarily blocked back in January because of the government shutdown but the permit process is back on now that the government has resumed full operations, making this court order necessary.

Seismic blasting is one of the greatest threats to the survival of highly endangered North Atlantic right whales and to countless other species that reside in the oceans. It is a devastating, widespread assault on any and all life in a 2,000+ mile range and under the current proposal, all life within that range could be subjected to at least 5 million blasts. The press release from the groups seeking the court order also states that the blasts will happen approximately every 10 seconds for weeks or months at a time. The mere fact that it's being proposed and has a chance of occurring is a chilling reminder of the greed and arrogance held by many in power that have such disrespect and downright hatred for the natural world.

The main range of North Atlantic right whales is between central Florida and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada with the Georgia and Florida coast being the only known calving grounds of these whales. There are at least seven North Atlantic right whale calves and their mothers in the southeast right now who face the highest risk from the blasting. The court filing states, "Despite acknowledging the risk that seismic blasting poses to right whales, including the potential for mother-calf separation, NMFS authorized surveys in the species’ migration route and adjacent to their calving grounds."

The filing also shows that blasting ships would concentrate their fire on the world’s densest population of acoustically sensitive beaked whales off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. "As a result, the Cape Hatteras beaked whale population will experience intense and sustained seismic blasting. NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] authorized the harassment of more beaked whales than any other type of whale and acknowledged that the "likely consequences" for beaked whales are "high." The filing also noted, "These whales can react to loud sounds by diving erratically, a behavior that can cause serious injury and death." The companies know that these whales could be killed by the seismic blasting, as does the NMFS, yet the permits were approved anyway.

On the legal front, the blasting would be a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. And, the government did not consider the 'combined effects of overlapping and simultaneous surveys, which are greater than the effects of individual seismic-blasting boats'. They also determined that only a "small number" of whales and dolphins would be harmed which is absolutely false. In addition to trying to stop the blasting now through a court decision, there must be a movement towards a Constitutional amendment that would ban seismic blasting in the US and an international treaty that would ban the practice globally. It's a practice that is horrific and simply cannot be allowed to continue. We are keeping a close eye on the legal proceedings and will continue to post updates on this situation as it unfolds.


Court Order Sought to Block Atlantic Seismic Blasting - Center for Biological Diversity - Press Release - 2/20/2019

Civ. No. 2:18-cv-3326-RMG - Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction [PDF]

To find out more about what is happening to North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales and how we can all take actions in our everyday lives to protect them, please visit our Facts and Action sections on our website. We also post updates and pictures on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.