Concern for whales after seismic testing approved
By Cath McAloon, ABCUpdated March 1, 2013, 9:16 pm
Environmentalists say the Federal Government’s decision to approve seismic testing off Victoria’s south-west coast could endanger blue whale populations.
Environment Minister Tony Burke this week approved an application by energy company WHL to conduct the testing in the Otway Basin, south-west of Port Campbell.
It involves shooting high-energy air pressure into the ocean.
It will occur in November and December in an area known to be frequented by endangered blue whales.
The Government says special conditions will be enforced during testing to protect migrating whales.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Sustainability and Environment says the conditions include a requirement to switch the seismic source to a lower setting if whales are sighted in the area.
There will be dedicated “marine mammal observers” on board the seismic testing vessel for the duration of the survey.
But Matthew Collis from International Fund for Animal Welfare says the conditions do not go far enough.
“The Government’s seismic guidelines clearly say they should try to avoid areas and times when blue whales are present – yet this area has seen the largest ever sighting of blue whales at exactly the same time that the company is proposing to undertake seismic testing,” he said.
He says whales could be forced away from areas they need to feed in.
“These are whales that were hunted to near extinction in previous centuries and have not yet recovered barely at all, so it’s really important that critical habitat areas… are protected and that’s why we are so disappointed by the decision.”