The Trump administration’s plans to expand offshore oil and gas exploration along the Eastern Seaboard spells trouble for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which only 450 or so remain. Right whales traverse these waters, from birthing areas along southern states to feeding grounds off New England and Canada. Past efforts to open the East Coast to oil exploration were ultimately vetoed by President Obama, but the current administration is eager to drill. In November it issued permits for surveys to five energy companies.
Before there is drilling there is seismic exploration; explosive blasts of noise are aimed at the ocean floor to gauge the reverberations, which indicate the potential for oil and gas deposits. Blasts are repeated over and over, for hours at a time, day and night, for weeks or even months. Research shows that the impacts from these blasts have devastating effects on marine life, ranging from damage to hearing, masking of essential communications, reduction of fish populations, and disturbance of feeding, migration, and breeding behaviors. In Israel, dozens of sea turtles recently washed ashore after seismic explorations (20 explosions every nine seconds over a 24-hour period).
A legal challenge to the plan has been filed by environmental groups and nine states: Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Bills designed to limit offshore oil and gas exploration have also been introduced in Congress. For North Atlantic right whales, seismic exploration will likely spell disaster and undo the work done by a wide range of stakeholders, including the shipping and fishing industries, to help save these magnificent creatures from extinction.