Blog Tags: Arctic Ocean
This week, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Economist’s Arctic Summit, held in London. The summit brought leaders from the oil and gas, shipping, and mining industries together with world leaders, academics, and others to talk about various aspects of development in the Arctic region.
Oceana is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a $3 million grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. The grant will aid our efforts to protect threatened ocean habitat and keystone marine species in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.
“Protecting our planet’s oceans and the marine species that call it home is one of the most pressing sustainability crises facing humanity today and a moral imperative that we must acknowledge,” DiCaprio said. “It’s my hope that this grant will help Oceana continue the tremendous work that they do daily on behalf of our oceans.”
An ice-ridden, remote, ecologically-rich, and picturesque region of Alaska’s Arctic will remain that way, at least for 2014. On January 30, Royal Dutch Shell’s new CEO, Ben van Beurden, made the announcement that sent a wave of praise ricocheting throughout the conservation community: Shell will not pursue offshore oil drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean this year.
Shell now has the green light from the government to harass marine mammals and put them at risk of a major oil spill in the region.
The Arctic Ocean is home to an abundance of wildlife. In the spring, consistent and extensive polynyas—stretches of open water surrounded by sea ice—create pathways into the Arctic for bowhead whales, seals, and birds seeking to take advantage of the explosion of productivity created by summer’s constant daylight.
For millennia, this great migration of marine mammals and seabirds has been a part of the Inupiat subsistence culture. Now, however, these animals and ecosystems are at risk. Despite the lack of basic scientific information and demonstrated ability to clean up spilled oil in Arctic conditions, our government is poised to allow companies to move forward with offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Whales, walrus, and other species are protected by laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may permit small numbers of marine mammals to be “harassed” by industrial activities by issuing the company an “incidental harassment authorization” or “letter of authorization.”
So what, exactly, is allowed? According to the government, Shell’s plans will result in “Level B” harassment,” which means the activities have:
the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering but which does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild.
According to the government documents, Shell’s drilling activities would result in harassment of thousands of marine mammals such as whales and seals.
Of course, it is difficult to evaluate these numbers, or what they might mean for these populations because we are missing basic information, such as good estimates of the numbers of seals and walrus. A fuller understanding of the food web, ocean conditions, and changes due to warming would allow us to better understand the impacts of this harassment and Shell’s proposals more broadly.
A is drawing attention to the impact that Shell’s proposed Arctic drilling program will have on marine mammals, but this is no joke. For its part, Shell continues to push aggressively to drill this summer even as it backtracks on commitments to protect clean air, argues with the Coast Guard about how strong its response barge must be, and loses control of its drill ship.
Every day brings Shell a little closer to drilling in Arctic waters, home to seals, whales, and polar bears.
With that drilling comes the risk of an oil spill, which could be devastating to the ocean ecosystem and those dependent on it. But it’s not too late—there is still a chance for President Obama to turn Shell’s boats around and insist on good science and demonstrated response technology.
Drilling in the Arctic isn’t like drilling anywhere else. Stormy seas, freezing temperatures, and a lack of infrastructure create a dangerous and possibly deadly trifecta. If an accident occurs, it would be impossible to clean up the spilled oil and keep the water safe for the whales and seals who live there.
Oceana and its partners gathered more than one million signatures seeking good decisions about our Arctic Ocean resources. These signatures are being delivered to the White House today asking President Obama to turn Shell’s ships around and keep the Arctic safe.
But there is still more to do. Today, we’re asking you to call the White House and ask President Obama to stop Shell until we have the science and response capacity needed to make good decisions. We’ve made it easy for you—you can just dial 202-456-1111, or check out our handy form with talking points here. And then let us know how it goes!
In the past 60 days Shell Oil, the global oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands, has received two permits from the U.S. government approving their Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea spill response plans. This is shocking because neither of the plans use technology that has ever been successfully tested in America’s Arctic waters.
Drilling could begin as soon as July 1 -- a blatant sign that the Administration is going after a quick political fix that places the public trust behind Big Oil’s bottom line. A year ago people were talking about the possibility of drilling one well in the Arctic, but today’s approval will make it possible for Shell to drill up to ten wells, four in the Beaufort Sea and six in the Chukchi.
Oceana encourages the Administration to follow a path of attaining and relying on good science, being prepared for a worst case accident, and having a full and fair public dialogue.
Currently in the North Sea there is a leaking rig that could spark a massive explosion. This latest North Sea disaster is a crystal ball showing us the future in the Arctic. There has never been exploration, development, or transport of oil in the offshore U.S. without a major accident eventually occurring as evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Santa Barbara pipe rupture, and the Exxon Valdez tanker wreck.
The last public U.S. Arctic in-the-water spill response tests were a failure so why is the U.S. government and Shell assuming their untested spill plans will work? Just look at the most recent failed test and you can see they aren’t prepared.
Wherever oil and gas exploration goes, pollution follows. It is naive to think that a spill won’t happen in the Arctic. And we have the rare opportunity to do thoughtful management and planning in the Arctic.
There is simply not enough science information or infrastructure in the Arctic to make any kind of claim that offshore drilling could be done without harming this pristine place.
You can help: Tell President Obama to make sure Shell’s final permits are not granted – let’s keep offshore drilling out of the Arctic.
Who doesn’t love the unicorns of the sea?
Narwhals, like dolphins and whales, are cetaceans, although they are found almost exclusively in the Arctic Ocean. Because narwhals spend so much time in icy waters, about a third of their weight is blubber to stay warm.
Narwhals are known for their unicorn-like tusk — which is actually a tooth! All narwhals have two teeth, but in most male narwhals, one of these teeth grows through the upper lip and can be as long as ten feet. Sometimes males will have two tusks or none, and occasionally females grow tusks.
Scientists aren’t quite sure why narwhals grow tusks. One idea is that males use them to prove their worth as mates and compete with other males. Another theory is that narwhals use their tusks to skewer food or mix up bottom sediments, but this doesn’t explain why female narwhals typically don’t have horns.
Just like human teeth, narwhal tusks contain blood vessels and sensory tissue—but on the outside of the tusk, so other scientists think they may be used to figure out where ice is forming, how salty water is, or what prey is nearby.
Narwhals eat squid, octopus, fish, and shellfish. Because they have only two teeth (and one usually can’t be used to chew), they usually swallow their food whole. They have also developed a special hunting technique that uses suction and water jets to pull fish and mollusks off the seafloor.
These mammals can live for as long as 50 years. They spend most of their time in small groups of less than ten narwhals, typically of only one gender, but these small groups can join forces in herds of hundreds.
Scientists believe there are about 80,000 narwhals in the Arctic right now, but are not sure whether these animals are thriving. In addition to subsistence hunting by Inuit for their skin and blubber, narwhals are also hunted for their horns. And climate change could cause serious disruptions to their lives, which are based around pack ice.
Learn more about narwhals and other fascinating sea animals at Oceana’s marine encyclopedia.
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