Northern bottlenose whales off Canada’s Atlantic coast are endangered and in need of protection, not more stress, says the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

Northern bottlenose whales off Canada’s Atlantic coast are endangered and in need of protection, not more stress, says the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.
Photo Credit: Sierra Club Canada Foundation

Seismic testing could kill ‘delightful’ bottlenose whales: scientist

Scientists have found a new population of Northern bottlenose whales off Canada’s east coast and are worried they will be harmed by seismic testing for oil and gas. This type of whale is typically about 10 metres long. It dives deep to feed on deep-water squid and must come to the surface to breathe. As one of the world’s deepest diving mammals, these whales are known to plumb depths of 1,453 metres.

Northern bottlenose whales are notoriously curious and playful, which made them easy prey before the hunting of whales was curtailed.
Northern bottlenose whales are notoriously curious and playful, which made them easy prey before the hunting of whales was curtailed. © Sierra Club Canada Foundation

‘They come around our boat’

An older population of Northern bottlenose whales off the coast of the province of Nova Scotia has been studied for about 25 years by scientists including Hal Whitehead, researcher and professor of biology at Dalhousie University. “When they’re up at the surface, they come around our boat and other people’s boats and make rude noises and look at us. So, they’re delightful creatures.”

Listen
Prof. Hal Whitehead says Northern bottlenose whales depend on sound, but it can kill them.
Prof. Hal Whitehead says Northern bottlenose whales depend on sound, but it can kill them. © J. Modigliani

Whales are known to navigate and communicate using sound. A few months ago, Whitehead and others recorded general sound in the water up and down the Grand Banks, which is a shallow shelf that extends off Canada’s Atlantic coast before dropping steeply. When they processed the sound, they heard the new population of these whales, but they also heard seismic testing going on close to them.

Beaked whales particularly vulnerable

“There’s been increasing concern that sound affects animals in the ocean—fish, turtles, but perhaps especially whales,” says Hal Whitehead, researcher and professor of biology at Dalhousie University. He says beaked whales like the Northern bottlenose whale may be particularly affected.

“We don’t quite understand why they’re so vulnerable, but it looks like large sounds quite often kill them. They certainly disturb them, change their foraging.”

Northern bottlenose whales are found off Canada’s eastern coast, an area where there is extensive seismic testing by the oil and gas industry.
Northern bottlenose whales are found off Canada’s eastern coast, an area where there is extensive seismic testing by the oil and gas industry. © Sierra Club Canada Foundation

Voluntary mitigation not applied

There are voluntary measures to mitigate sound but Whitehead says they are not being applied. He and other scientists want the petroleum industry to take a precautionary approach and avoid seismic testing where these whales are.

“If we want these animals to keep being here, we’ve got to be sensitive about their environment,” says Whitehead. “Sound is what they depend on and sound can kill them.”

One of two populations of Northern bottlenose whale is listed as ‘endangered’ and the other is ‘of special concern’ under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, a law designed to protect animals.

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2 comments on “Seismic testing could kill ‘delightful’ bottlenose whales: scientist
  1. Hal Whitehead is using his reputation as a scientist to actually disprove he’s a real scientist! NO dolphins or whales have been killed by the sound of seismic surveys in over 4 decades of conducting then using compressed air. His statements remind me of the comment on science by Geoffrey Harold Sherrington, a scientist who has been concerned about some of the pseudo-science used in the climate change debate: “Good science is simply work that can be replicated, work that has not been falsified, work that considers and quantifies all possible variables, work that advances the state of knowledge, work that is complete before release – not incomplete and calling for the Precautionary Principle.” It appears to me that many scientists are ignoring science and facts when they claim that whales and dolphins will be harmed (even killed) by seismic surveys.

  2. James Vandenblink says:

    The world is awash with oil, gas prices are down.
    Why must we endanger our environment and our fellow creatures?
    The relentless greed of some will take us ever closer to the abyss!