Seismic victory for whales – March 28th 2007

Coming as a welcome change of pace for whales, we have good news to report. The marine component of the BATHOLITHS Project has been cancelled!

This Science-gone-mad scheme would have seen vital northern British Columbia habitat for humpback whales, orcas and numerous other species of cetaceans (as well as fish and marine life at large) blasted with intense, unbearably loud and harmful “seismic” pulses for weeks on end. The project, slated to begin later this year, stemmed from curiosity among geophysical scientists about the origins of the Earth’s crust and the formation of British Columbia’s coastal mountain ranges. Taken in isolation, these are not unworthy objectives, but the proposed methodology brought with it enormous consequences for the marine environment, and especially for whales struggling to reestablish their lives after too many decades of relentless oppression at the hands of the whaling industry.

Humpback whales were virtually wiped out in British Columbia’s coastal waters by the end of the 1960s. In recent years they have begun to recover their numbers, and are reestablishing their presence in some of their traditional territories, though others remain blank. Full recovery is still a long way off, and humpbacks remain officially “threatened” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The BATHOLITHS Project posed an enormous threat to humpbacks who congregate and feast in narrow northern inlets during the fall. Escape from deafening and potentially lethal seismic pulses would have been difficult or impossible, so harm to individuals and the population at large was a virtual certainty.

The March 8th “Notice of Termination” by Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) came as a huge relief to the many NGOs and hundreds of others who had submitted comments opposing the project (see our comment and the press release of the Living Oceans Society & other opponents). Crucial to the decision was the negative opinion of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The decision comes as a victory for whales, and for the preservation of pristine marine habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Had the BATHOLITHS project gone ahead, the way would be wide open for oil companies and governments intent on pursuing oil and gas development in British Columbia’s inshore waters, despite its environmental consequences. The cancellation of the proposed seismic testing (by a consortium of scientists with no apparent affiliation to the oil industry) strikes a blow to the ambitions of those who would despoil the coastal waters of British Columbia in the pursuit of economic “progress”, with little to no thought for impacts on its marine inhabitants. We can be sure however, that despite this setback, they will continue their efforts.

While it appropriate for us to celebrate this rare and hard won victory, we must also remain vigilant, and continue to press for the preservation of British Columbia’s precious coastal heritage.

photo copyright: Cetacealab

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