Atlantic whales, dolphins at risk from seismic testing, group warns

Oceana contends underwater 'airgun' blasts could hurt fishing, tourism industries as well

  • Marine mammals like this bottlenose dolphin photographed off Ocean City are said to be at risk of disruption and injury from seismic testing for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast.
Marine mammals like this bottlenose dolphin photographed… (National Aquarium )
April 16, 2013|Tim Wheeler

Seismic testing for oil and gas off Maryland and other Atlantic coast states could cause widespread harm to whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish, as well as to fishing and tourism, an environmental group warned Tuesday.

Oceana said the federal government's own environmental impact statement estimates 138,500 whales and dolphins could be injured if seismic "airguns," which generate blasts of noise underwater, are used to explore for oil and gas along the Atlantic coast. 

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is weighing applications to conduct offshore seismic testing from Delaware to Florida. Officials say the testing could update previous estimates that there are 1.9 billion barrels of oil and 21.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas technically recoverable off the Mid- and South Atlantic coast.

But Oceana contends marine mammals and fish, including several endangered species, could be disrupted, harmed or even killed by the testing.  Commercial and recreational fishing and tourism could suffer as a result, the group said. A total of 80,000 Maryland jobs in those industries would be at risk, according to Oceana.

The group is urging federal officials to deny the applications, or else limit testing and require a less disruptive testing method.

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