New Oceana Maps Show At-Risk Atlantic Marine Life Threatened by Unnecessary Seismic Airgun Blasting


Despite Recent Decision to Protect Atlantic from Offshore Drilling, Seismic Airgun Permits Still Being Pursued in Known Habitat Areas for Fish, Sea Turtles, Whales and Other Marine Life

SEISMIC-AIR-GUN WASHINGTON – Today, Oceana released a new set of maps that show the threat of seismic airgun blasting to important marine life off the East Coast. Specifically, the maps depict the overlap between current seismic airgun permit application areas in the Atlantic and known habitats for at-risk turtles, whales and sharks, as well as commercially and recreationally important fish species.

Despite the recent decision to protect the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling, seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor, is still being pursued in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.

“With offshore drilling off the table in the Atlantic, there is absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by unnecessary seismic airgun blasting in the region,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana. “The noise from seismic airgun blasting is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas. These maps clearly show that seismic airgun blasting could threaten coastal communities, economies, fisheries and marine mammals.”

Oceana’s maps show Essential Fish Habitat, areas designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as necessary for the spawning, breeding, feeding and maturation of federally managed commercial and recreational fish stocks, as well as Critical Habitat, areas required for the conservation of threatened or endangered species like the loggerhead turtle, scalloped hammerhead shark and North Atlantic right whale. As seen in the map below, these habitat areas directly overlap with the large swath of the Atlantic currently being considered for seismic airgun blasting.

“We know that the noise from seismic airguns is of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival,” said Dr. Ingrid Biedron, marine scientist at Oceana. “Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of fish, stress response in crabs, decline in sperm whale feeding calls, and the silencing of bowhead whales. Documented impacts to bowhead whales, closely related to North Atlantic right whales, are especially alarming because the proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic would take place in and around critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales, including the species’ only known calving ground.”

Last year, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain.”

Also today, 36 commercial and recreational fishing interests in the Mid-Atlantic sent a letter to the governors of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, expressing their concerns with offshore drilling and proposed seismic airgun blasting, which they say “could disrupt the spawning, feeding and migration patterns that support our fisheries and replenish fish populations from year to year.”

To date, over 110 East Coast municipalities, as well as more than 100 Members of Congress, 750 state and local elected officials, and 1,100 business interests, including The Billfish Foundation, The International Game Fish Association, Southeastern Fisheries Association and the Mid- and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, have all publically opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun use, citing threats to marine life, coastal communities and local economies. Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation.

“The government is knowingly putting entire marine communities at risk by opening up the Atlantic to seismic airgun blasting,” said Douglass. “We urge the Obama administration to stop seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic before it’s too late. There is absolutely no reason to put more than 100,000 marine mammals in harm’s way when safer alternative technologies such as marine vibroseis are available.”

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. We run science-based campaigns and seek to win policy victories that can restore ocean biodiversity and ensure that the oceans are abundant and can feed hundreds of millions of people. Oceana victories have already helped to create policies that could increase fish populations in its countries by as much as 40 percent and that have protected more than 1 million square miles of ocean. We have campaign offices in the countries that control close to 40 percent of the world’s wild fish catch, including in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit

Dustin Cranor | Communications Director, U.S. Campaigns


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