Endangered whales vanishing from Russian waters



Posted on 03 July 2007  | 
There could be less than 130 Western gray whales (Eschrictius robustus) remaining.
© WWF-Canon / Michel TerrettazEnlarge
Moscow, Russia – Noise pollution from a gas and oil project in the Russian Far East is the likely cause behind critically endangered western gray whales abandoning their only known feeding area.

The installation of a platform by Sakhalin Energy at Shell’s Sakhalin II project site has resulted in constant, high noise levels underwater for over two days.

A WWF monitoring team has been able to feel the vibrations of the construction work at their base onshore. The ships that are involved in the platform construction 12km offshore make low-frequency noise that may affect the feeding patterns of the whales and harm their auditory system, which is crucial for their orientation capability.

The whales are normally seen feeding adjacent to the shore.

“Shell has been warned by experts of the need to limit both the duration and level of noise, but the company will not let protecting the whales interfere with its construction schedule,” said James Leaton, WWF’s Oil and Gas Policy Advisor.

"There are only around 100 western gray whales remaining in the world, so any impact on the population could be catastrophic for its future viability."

Scientists recently confirmed that just one extra female gray whale death per year would be likely to result in their extinction. WWF is also concerned that more ‘skinny’ or emaciated whales were seen last year than any year since 2001 as it suggests disruption of feeding.

Sakhalin II is the world's largest combined oil and natural gas development project and involves the installation of an offshore platform on an existing oil field and the installation of a single platform on a gas field. These platforms, as well as one other, will be linked to the shore by offshore pipelines. The oil and gas will then be transported via 800km of onshore pipelines to Prigorodnoye, in the south of Sakhalin Island and the export terminals.

An expert panel has been convened to advise Shell on the whale issue. However, the most recent meeting was hindered by Shell failing to provide adequate information on previous noise levels or on future construction plans. As a result, Shell is operating without following the best scientific advice.

“Shell needs to halt operations while the noise levels are investigated," Leaton added. "Otherwise, Shell could be responsible for the extinction of the western gray whale.”

END NOTES:

• Shell has only released summary data for the weekend (30 June–1 July 2007), which shows that the average hourly noise levels for two days were around 120dB. This is likely to have resulted in excessive exposure for the whales in terms of either a high level of noise or the duration of noise.

• Sakhalin II–Gazprom is the majority shareholder (50% plus one share) in Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd. Shell continues to be the operator of this project responsible for its construction.

• Shell continues to refuse to release draft oil spill response plans for the project, despite repeated calls from stakeholders. The unstable ice conditions that prevail for six months of the year render normal response mechanisms useless. With original timetables indicating winter oil production less than six months away, this is unacceptable.

• ABN Amro have been criticised for their role in financing the Sakhalin II project without paying adequate attention to environmental and social issues. ABN Amro has provided a US$1 billion loan to finance Gazprom’s entry into the project, but has this type of deal is not covered by any environmental due diligence.

For further information:
Alexandra Hartridge, Press Officer
WWF-UK
Tel: +44 1483 412347
E-mail: ahartridge@wwf.org.uk
There could be less than 130 Western gray whales (Eschrictius robustus) remaining.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Terrettaz Enlarge
Map of the Sakhalin region
Map of the Sakhalin region.
© WWF Enlarge

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