Thursday, March 5, 2015

Full Text: Letter Urging the President to Reject Seismic Oil and Gas Surveys in the Atlantic

Today 75 leading ocean scientists from the U.S. and around the world urged President Obama to halt a planned oil and gas exploration program off the Atlantic coast involving millions of underwater sound blasts. This is the full text of that letter with the complete list of signatures.

Dear Mr. President:
We, the undersigned, are marine scientists united in our concern over the introduction of seismic oil and gas exploration along the U.S. mid-Atlantic and south Atlantic coasts. This activity represents a significant threat to marine life throughout the region.

To identify subsea deposits, operators use arrays of high-volume airguns, which fire approximately every 10–12 seconds, often for weeks or months at a time, with sound almost as powerful as that produced by underwater chemical explosives. Already nine survey applications covering the entirety of the region several times over have been submitted within the past six months, including multiple duplicative efforts in the same areas. In all, the activities contemplated by the Interior Department would result in more than 20 million seismic shots.

Airgun surveys have an enormous environmental footprint. For blue and other endangered great whales, for example, such surveys have been shown to disrupt activities essential to foraging and reproduction over vast ocean areas. Additionally, surveys could increase the risk of calves being separated from their mothers, the effects of which can be lethal, and, over time, cause chronic behavioral and physiological stress, suppressing reproduction and increasing mortality and morbidity. The Interior Department itself has estimated that seismic exploration would disrupt vital marine mammal behavior more than 13 million times over the initial six-to-seven years, and there are good reasons to consider this number a significant underestimate.

The impacts of airguns extend beyond marine mammals to all marine life. Many other marine animals respond to sound, and their ability to hear other animals and acoustic cues in their environment are critical to survival. Seismic surveys have been shown to displace commercial species of fish, with the effect in some fisheries of dramatically depressing catch rates. Airguns can also cause mortality in fish eggs and larvae, induce hearing loss and physiological stress, interfere with adult breeding calls, and degrade anti-predator response: raising concerns about potentially massive impacts on fish populations. In some species of invertebrates, such as scallops, airgun shots and other low-frequency noises have been shown to interfere with larval or embryonic development. And threatened and endangered sea turtles, although almost completely unstudied for their vulnerability to noise impacts, have their most sensitive hearing in the same low frequencies in which most airgun energy is concentrated.

The Interior Department’s decision to authorize seismic surveys along the Atlantic coast is based on the premise that these activities would have only a negligible impact on marine species and populations. Our expert assessment is that the Department’s premise is not supported by the best available science. On the contrary, 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 only 500 remain.

Opening the U.S. east coast to seismic airgun exploration poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life at the species and population levels, the full extent of which will not be understood until long after the harm occurs. Mitigating such impacts requires a much better understanding of cumulative effects, which have not properly been assessed, as well as strict, highly precautionary limits on the amounts of annual and concurrent survey activities, which have not been prescribed. To proceed otherwise is simply not sustainable. Accordingly, we respectfully urge you, Mr. President, to reject the Interior Department’s analysis and its decision to introduce seismic oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic.


Christopher Clark, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Bioacoustics Research Program
Cornell University

Scott Kraus, Ph.D.
Vice President of Research
John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory
New England Aquarium

Doug Nowacek, Ph.D.
Repass-Rodgers Chair of Marine Conservation Technology
Nicholas School of the Environment & Pratt School of Engineering
Duke University

Andrew J. Read, Ph.D.
Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology
Division of Marine Science and Conservation
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University

Aaron Rice, Ph.D.
Science Director
Bioacoustics Research Program
Cornell University

Howard C. Rosenbaum, Ph.D.
Director, Ocean Giants Program
Global Conservation Programs
Wildlife Conservation Society

Natacha Aguilar, Ph.D.
Director of Cetacean and Bioacoustics Research
University of La Laguna
Canary Islands, Spain

Simon Allen
Research Fellow
Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit

S. Elizabeth Alter, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biology
York College, City University of New York

Ricardo Antunes, Ph.D.
Ocean Giants Program
Wildlife Conservation Society

Marta Azzolin, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Life Sciences and Systems, Biology Department
University of Torino

David Bain, Ph.D.
Marine Biologist

Robin Baird, Ph.D.
Research Biologist
Cascadia Research Collective

Kenneth C. Balcomb III
Executive Director and Principal Investigator
Center for Whale Research

Giovanni Bearzi, Ph.D.
Science Director, Dolphin Biology and Conservation
Faculty Member and Research Associate
Texas A&M University

Kerstin Bilgmann, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
Cetacean Ecology Behaviour and Evolution Lab
Flinders University, South Australia

Barbara A. Block, Ph.D.
Prothro Professor of Marine Sciences
Department of Biology
Stanford University

John Calambokidis
Senior Research Biologist and Co-Founder
Cascadia Research Collective

Merry Camhi, Ph.D.
New York Seascape Wildlife Conservation Society

Diane Claridge, Ph.D
Executive Director
Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation

Annie B. Douglas
Research Biologist
Cascadia Research Collective

Sylvia Earle, Ph.D.
Founder and Chair
Mission Blue

Erin A. Falcone
Research Biologist
Cascadia Research Collective

Michael L. Fine, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
Virginia Commonwealth University

Sylvia Frey, Ph.D.
Director, Science & Education

Edmund Gerstein, Ph.D.
Director Marine Mammal Research
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Florida Atlantic University

Caroline Good, Ph.D.
Adjunct Research Professor
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University

Frances Gulland, Vet M.B., Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
The Marine Mammal Center

Denise Herzing, Ph.D.
Research Director, Wild Dolphin Project
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University

Holger Klinck, Ph.D.
Technology Director
Bioacoustics Research Program
Cornell University

Dipl. Biol. Sven Koschinski
Meereszoologie, Germany

Russell Leaper
Honorary Research Fellow
University of Aberdeen

Susan Lieberman, Ph.D.
Vice President, International Policy
Wildlife Conservation Society

Klaus Lucke, Ph.D.
Research Associate
Centre for Marine Science and Technology
Curtin University, Western Australia

Joseph J. Luczkovich, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Biology
Institute for Coastal Science and Policy
East Carolina University

William McClellan
NC State Stranding Coordinator
Large Whale Necropsy Team Leader
Department of Biology and Marine Biology
University of North Carolina, Wilmington

David McGuire, M.E.H.
Director, Shark Stewards

Sean McQuilken
Biologist and Endangered Species Observer

David K. Mellinger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Senior Research
Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies
Oregon State University

Olaf Meynecke, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist
Humpbacks & High-Rises

T. Aran Mooney, Ph.D.
Associate Scientist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Michael Moore, Ph.D.
Director, Marine Mammal Center
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Cynthia F. Moss, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Johns Hopkins University

Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D.
Marine Biologist

Sharon Nieukirk
Senior Faculty Research Assistant
Marine Bioacoustics
Oregon State University

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Ph.D.
Tethys Research Institute

D. Ann Pabst, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology and Marine Biology
University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Susan E. Parks, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Syracuse University

Chris Parsons, Ph.D. FRGS FSB
Department of Environmental Science & Policy
George Mason University

Roger Payne, Ph.D.
Founder and President
Ocean Alliance

Marta Picciulin, Ph.D.
Marine Biologist

Wendy Dow Piniak, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Gettysburg College

Randy R. Reeves, Ph.D.
IUCN/ SSC Cetacean Specialist Group
International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Luke Rendell, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Sea Mammal Research Unit
University of St. Andrews, Scotland

Denise Risch, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
Scottish Marine Institute

Dipl.-Biol. Fabian Ritter
Director of Research
MEER e.V., Berlin, Germany

Mario Rivera-Chavarria
Marine Biologist
University of Costa Rica

Marie A. Roch, Ph.D.
Professor of Computer Science
San Diego State University

Rosalind M. Rolland, D.V.M.
Senior Scientist
John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory
New England Aquarium

Naomi Rose, Ph.D.
Marine Mammal Scientist
Animal Welfare Institute

Heather Saffert, Ph.D.
Marine Scientist
Strategy Blue

Carl Safina, Ph.D.
Endowed Professor for Nature and Humanity
Stony Brook University

Gregory S. Schorr
Research Biologist
Cascadia Research Collective

Eduardo Secchi, Ph.D.
Instituto de Oceanografia
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande, Brazil

Mark W. Sprague, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Physics
East Carolina University

Richard Steiner
Professor (ret.)
University of Alaska

Jan Stel, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Ocean Space and Human Activity
International Centre for Integrated Assessment and Sustainable Development
Maastricht University, The Netherlands

Michael Stocker
Executive Director
Ocean Conservation Research

Lisa Suatoni, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Natural Resources Defense Council

Sean K. Todd, Ph.D.
Steve K. Katona Chair in Marine Science
Director, Allied Whale
Associate Academic Dean for Graduate Studies
College of the Atlantic

Scott Veirs, Ph.D.
Beam Reach Science & Sustainability School

Val Veirs, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics, Emeritus
Colorado College

Linda Weilgart, Ph.D.
Adjunct, Department of Biology
Dalhousie University

Hal Whitehead, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Dalhousie University

George M. Woodwell, Ph.D.
Founder and Director Emeritus
Woods Hole Research Center

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