Media incorrectly alleges seismic surveys responsible for dolphin strandings
Two recent media reports have alleged that seismic surveys were the cause of sick, dying, and stranded dolphins. A report dated 2 April 2012 describes dolphins stranding along Louisiana's coast and relates that event to a decision by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to require that Global Geophysical Services Inc. cease its deep-penetration seismic surveys in March and April during the bottlenose dolphin calving season. A report dated 4 April 2012 describes 615 dead dolphins being found along a 90-mile stretch of beaches in Peru, and states the leading suspect as marine seismic surveys by oil companies. The incidents were coincident in time and geographic area of seismic surveys, but the media reports did not present any direct scientific evidence to support their claims.
Global Geophysical did not violate the conditions of its G&G permit issued by BOEM, which included the stipulation that Global could not operate their seismic source in 20 m water depth or less during the months of March and April. Global was aware of this permit condition before starting the survey and the company complied with the stipulation by ceasing operations in <20 m water depth for March and April.
The sick and stranded dolphins in the GOM are thought to be part of an ongoing (2010-present) ‘unusual mortality event’ (UME), which is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” This UME is not thought to be a result of seismic surveys. Reports of the UME by NOAA Fisheries suggest that Brucella bacterial infection may be involved.
Some of the strandings in Peru occurred before the seismic survey had started, and a later media report dated 21 April stated that the Peruvian government did not think the dolphin strandings were related to seismic surveys, the most probable hypothesis being the possibility of an infection with a virus.
Nevertheless, during public meetings on the Atlantic G&G DPEIS during two weeks in April, several eNGOs and members of the public cited these media reports as reasons why they did not support allowing geophysical surveys on the Atlantic OCS – because they thought seismic surveys would result in dolphin strandings or other significant impacts.