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The oil industry poses three distinct threats to cetaceans: habitat loss, possible hearing damage and pollution. Oil exploration and recovery may exclude cetaceans from valuable habitat and disturb feeding, resting and breeding.

Findings of a joint study undertaken by Russian and American scientists, and endorsed by WWF, indicate that seismic surveys for offshore oil and gas being conducted off Sakhalin in Russia have excluded gray whales from their primary feeding habitat.

Researchers have noted the physical impacts of seismic surveys, which are used in undersea oil exploration, upon whales, dolphins and porpoises that rely heavily on their sense of hearing.

In 1992, humpback whales off Newfoundland, Canada, were found with damaged ear structures after underwater blasting was used in constructing oil installations. Whales exposed to seismic testing conducted by the oil industry in Alaska were also found to have hearing damage.

Pollutants and toxics from activities relating to the oil industry are also a health risk to cetaceans.

Oil spills

The M/V Selendang Ayu wreck off Unalaska Island in the Bering Sea. The freighter was carrying 483,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel and 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel. © WWF
Hydrocarbons, including crude oil, can be released intentionally by oil tankers after offloading, or unintentionally through accidental discharges and oil spills. Fuel oil can also be released into the environment from leaking vessels and shipping accidents.

Drilling lubricants used by the oil industry can contain high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals that can have toxic impact upon marine life.