Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 22, 2018

Contact: Steve Jones, (510) 844-7140,

Trump Administration Seeks to Harm Gulf of Mexico's Marine Mammals With Airgun Oil Exploration

Deafening Seismic Blasts Would Harass Endangered Whales Millions of Times

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration today proposed allowing oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico that would harm marine mammals with deafening seismic airgun blasts millions of times over the next five years.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to adopt incidental take regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, opening a 60-day comment period on the plan. Seismic exploration furthers the Trump administration’s proposal to drastically expand offshore drilling in the Gulf and other U.S. oceans.     

“The Gulf of Mexico is already saturated with thousands of oil wells that endanger wildlife. Compounding that damage by blasting endangered whales with deafening seismic blasts is excessive and cruel,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and offshore oil spills, not ramp up our dependence. Enough is enough.” 

Seismic exploration surveys use extensive arrays of high-powered airguns to search for oil. They generate the loudest human sounds in the ocean short of explosives. The blasts, which can effectively reach more than 250 decibels, can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications among whales and among dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish.

The marine mammal permit for seismic blasting would allow up to 2.1 million instances of harm or injury to marine mammals over five years.

An estimated 437,000 to 577,000 individual animals would be affected, including endangered sperm whales, which could be harmed about 11,500 times, or almost 15 harmful blasts for each of the 763 whales in this population. The Bryde’s whale population in the Gulf, which is down to just 33 whales, could be harmed more than 100 times by the seismic blasting.  

The Gulf seismic study was a response to a lawsuit by the Center, Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club and the NRDC. Prior to the lawsuit, the oil and gas industry conducted seismic surveys for decades without the permits required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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