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Unique study shows oil, gas seismic work not affecting Gulf sperm whales
Date:8/21/2008

HOUSTON, Aug. 21, 2008 Noise can be irritating and possibly harmful for everything from mice to humans and maybe even 60-foot whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

In recent years, there has been concern that man-made noise may be a cause of stress for dolphins, whales and other marine mammals, but the results of a five-year study show that noise pollution especially noise generated by seismic airguns during geophysical exploration for oil and gas seems to have minimal effect on endangered sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico, say researchers from Texas A&M University who led the project and released their 323-page report today at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The multi-year $9 million study, the largest of its type ever undertaken and formally titled Sperm Whale Seismic Study in the Gulf of Mexico, was conducted by the Minerals Management Service and featured cooperation with the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project brought together researchers from eight universities, but it was managed overall by Texas A&M's Department of Oceanography, with research scientist Ann Jochens and professor Doug Biggs serving as principal investigators.

"The bottom line is that airgun noise from seismic surveys that are thousands of yards distant does not drive away sperm whales living in the Gulf," Biggs explains.

"However, some individual whales feeding at depth reduced the rate at which they searched acoustically for their prey when scientists carried out controlled exposure experiments by bringing seismic surveys close by the whales. As a result, the oil and gas industry has agreed to a best-practice attitude that seismic surveys should shut down temporarily when towed airguns come within one-third of a mile of whales or groups of whales in the Gulf."

Though not often seen, sperm whales are regular visitors to and residents in the Gulf of Mexic
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Contact: Keith Randall
keith-randall@tamu.edu
979-845-4644
Texas A&M University
Source:Eurekalert

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