Groups say seismic blasts are hurting belugas in Cook Inlet
Two conservation groups want the federal government to stop allowing seismic surveying in Cook Inlet. The Cook Inletkeeper and Center for Biological Diversity said the noise is harming beluga whales.
The survey work by Hilcorp involves blasting high pressure seismic airguns into the water. The sound waves that result help map the ocean floor and point to areas where oil and gas finds are likely.
Bob Shavelson, with the Cook Inletkeeper, said studies show loud noises can harm Cook Inlet beluga whales, which are considered highly endangered. He’s also concerned about the impacts on other creatures that inhabit the area where Hilcorp is testing.
“Imagine if a heavy metal band set up under your bedroom window,” Shavelson said. “How that would be if they were pounding 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a couple months on end. You would go nuts.”
Both the Cook Inletkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity have sued the federal government for issuing permits that allowed Hilcorp to do exploratory work in Cook Inlet.
As part of the permitting process, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires Hilcorp to make sure no marine mammals are present in the area where the testing is taking place. But recently the agency amended the permit to allow Hilcorp to continue the survey work at night when it’s much more difficult for spotters to see if the whales are present.
“We don’t think they should be able to do this seismic airgun testing at night because you can’t clear the area of marine mammals,” Shavelson said. “It’s very difficult in perfect conditions when you have flat seas and clear skies. It’s just about impossible to do at night.”
NOAA Fisheries has stated that allowing Hilcorp to ramp up its airgun activity at night will cut down on the number of days the company will need to spend surveying, which could reduce the impacts on marine mammals.
Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace said the company is complying with federal regulations including providing protected species observation vessels, observers on the seismic vessel and regular aerial surveys.
The company has a federal permit which says the survey work must be completed by Oct. 31 but Furnace said he expects they will finish before that.
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