Endangered orcas’ habitat scheduled for seismic tests on June 11th, 2012

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Update 6/12/12 11:45 a.m. The research vessel, R/V Marcus G Lagseth, is still docked in Astoria, Oregon.
Whether through bureaucratic bumbling by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or through intentional slight of hand, permission was granted for three sonically invasive explorations of the ocean floor in the waters off the Washington coast – prime habitat for the endangered Southern Resident orcas – without the proper notification to local agencies.
Even though Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory sent in their application for “Incidental Harassment Authorization to take marine mammals” last January, the permit was granted at the end of April with a 30 day comment period – but no notice was sent, other than in the Federal Register.
Now, with just days to prevent this, scientists and advocates are scrambling to block the seismic exploration before the orcas (along with nearly two dozen other species of whales and dolphins) are exposed to sound levels believed to have caused the mass death of thousands of dolphins in Peru.

Debating the danger of loud sonar to cetaceans involves the complex nature of sound in the water as well as our dismal lack of understanding of the behavior of most wild cetaceans…but what everybody agrees upon is that even if the sound itself doesn’t kill the whales and dolphins, they may react by racing to the surface to escape the sound, destroying their body tissues and damaging their hearing when gas bubbles form.
Below is a graphic that illustrates how sonar is used to penetrate the ocean floor – whether looking for oil reserves as in the case of the Peruvian dolphins, or investigating the nature of an earthquake fault as in this proposed study, the process is similar.

How the seismic exploration works.

Columbia University divided their survey into three parts, requesting harassment permits for each part – so they are actually exposing three times the number of animals to the sound, when the three surveys are combined:
Proposed survey area for the seismic survey in the northeastern Pacific Ocean planned for 5–8 July 2012 with OBS instrument. Notice the proposed trackline along the edge of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (light blue area).



Why this type of sonar is deadly:
Hardy Jones and Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos found evidence of damage in samples from some of the 615 dead dolphins in Peru (part of the thousands that died following seismic tests for oil):
a. Bleeding in the middle ear.
b. Simple fracture and cracks in the middle ear (periotic) bones.
c. Hemorrhage and bubbles in mandibular fat (where dolphins perceive incoming sounds)
d. Massive invasion of air bubbles which displaced the normal tissue of vital organs such as lungs, liver, kidney, bladder and blood vessels.
e. Pulmonary emphysema: air bubbles, bleeding and massive destruction of lung tissue
Gas bubbles in the liver of a Peruvian dolphin killed by seismic testing (Hardy Jones).

The endangered Southern Resident orcas can’t take much more loss, please help stop the testing until a more thorough environmental impact statement is prepared (the current one lumps all ecotypes of orcas together) and until the process is openly scrutinized.
What you can do: call your congress members, call NOAA, and spread the word through social media.
Application for permit
Federal Register notice
Blue Voice (Hardy Jones)
Victoria (L - 112) with her mom.

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