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Oil exploration raised at IWC as threat to critically endangered whales

Several governments attending the International Whaling Commission meeting say oil and gas development poses a grave threat to Western gray whales.

Addressing the opening day of the 63rd annual IWC meeting, representatives raised concerns over expanding oil and gas operations off Russia’s Sakhalin Island, a key feeding ground for the critically endangered whales and their calves.

“The UK is deeply concerned that ongoing industrial activities around Sakhalin Island continue to provide a threat to the population,” said UK Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries Richard Benyon.

There may be fewer than 130 Western gray whales remaining. The loss of just one or two breeding females each year could lead the whales to extinction.

Last summer three seismic surveys were conducted near the whales’ primary feeding habitat. Seismic surveys, used to detect subsea oil deposits, involve shooting large pulses of sound into the ocean floor and can cause the whales to abandon the area.

The US expressed its concern over the cumulative impacts of oil and gas operations off Sakhalin Island, where there are multiple off-shore oil and gas platforms.

Belgium noted that the impacts of last year’s surveys are not yet known and that an additional platform has been proposed for the area. Belgium also drew attention to a letter signed by twelve countries to the Russian Government encouraging postponement of a seismic survey because of the serious harm the survey could have on the whales.

WWF opposes development of the new platform, planned by Sakhalin Energy Investment Corporation, which could have a potentially devastating impact on the fragile Western gray whale population.

“The 130 remaining Western gray whales exist on a needle point in desperate need of protection, not another platform in their feeding grounds,” said Wendy Elliott, WWF’s Head of Delegation to the meeting. “Enough is enough.”

Russia has imposed a seasonal restriction on a newly available oil concession that would prohibit industrial activities from occurring when Western gray whales are in the area. WWF calls on Russia to expand that protection to all blocks surrounding Sakhalin Island.

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