Marine Life and Coastal Economies Threatened by Seismic Airgun Use in Atlantic Ocean | Oceana

Marine Life and Coastal Economies Threatened by Seismic Airgun Use in Atlantic Ocean

Press Release Date: April 16, 2013

Location: Washington, D.C.


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

Oceana released a new report today showing that marine life and coastal economies along the Atlantic Ocean are threatened by seismic airguns used in testing for offshore oil and gas. The United States government itself estimates that the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast – an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida – will injure and possibly kill 138,500 whales and dolphins, and disturb necessary activities for millions more.

“Instead of learning from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster three years ago, President Obama is now considering to take the first steps to expand our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels to the Atlantic Ocean, an area that has been protected from drilling for more than 30 years,” said Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana. “With minimal oil reserves there, and drilling at least five years off, seismic testing is an unnecessary insult to whales, dolphins and other marine animals. Drilling in the Atlantic won’t lower gas prices; it will instead lead to more oil disasters and more dependence on fossil fuels. Focusing on developing cleaner energy sources would be more strategic for our country and more sustainable for our oceans.”

During this testing process, a vessel tows one or more seismic airguns, which shoot extremely loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the seafloor every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. The airguns are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine and can disturb the vital behaviors of fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles, causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, driving animals from their homes, disrupting mating and causing animals to become stranded on beaches. Some of these disruptions can lead to death, and for populations that are already struggling, this could have devastating consequences. Airguns and offshore drilling also threaten commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as tourism and coastal recreation, putting more than 730,000 jobs at risk in the blast zone alone.


Jobs and Revenue in Fisheries, Tourism and Recreation
at Risk from Seismic Airguns and Offshore Drilling


Fisheries, Aquaculture &Seafood Markets GDP

Tourism & Recreation GDP

Tourism & Recreation Jobs

Recreational Fishing Jobs

Commercial Fishing Jobs



















North Carolina






South Carolina


















(Source: Compiled by Oceana from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service data)


“Imagine a rocket being launched out of your living room every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks at a time. You could go deaf or be forced to move. That’s what it’s like for sea life that is subjected to seismic testing, but unlike in people, a deaf whale is a dead whale,” said Matthew Huelsenbeck, report author and marine scientist at Oceana. “Serious effects to hearing can kill whales and dolphins that critically depend on their ability to hear in order to feed, navigate and care for their young. Airgun blasts threaten marine life of all sizes from tiny fish eggs to large whales, and people too. 730,000 East Coast jobs depend on a healthy ocean in the region that could be harmed by airguns or drilling. But we don’t have to turn the Atlantic into a blast zone.”

Other impacts outlined in the report include:

  • 13.5 million disturbances to vital behaviors in marine mammals such as breathing, feeding, mating and communicating,
  • Injuries to nine critically endangered North Atlantic right whales (only about 500 remain worldwide) and disruption of their critical habitat,
  • Widespread displacement of whales,
  • Disruption of loggerhead sea turtles as they head to nesting beaches,
  • Death of fish eggs and larvae, and
  • Potential disruption of fish migration and spawning.

Earlier this year, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sent letters to President Obama urging him to reject seismic airgun testing off the East Coast.

“The information contained in this report about the likely impact of seismic testing on marine life and coastal communities is staggering,” said Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06). “I have long opposed drilling in the Atlantic, but as this report shows, the seismic testing that is done to prepare for the drilling has its own significant dangers. Earlier this year, I joined with a number of my colleagues in writing to President Obama to urge him not to pursue seismic testing in the Atlantic. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the challenges coastal communities continue to face all along the Atlantic, this is the last thing we need. I commend Oceana for recognizing the danger posed by seismic testing and for issuing this report.”

Oceana is now calling on the Obama administration to phase out the use of airguns in U.S. waters and deny all current proposals that incorporate their use. Oceana has also launched a petition to stop seismic testing on the White House’s web site, which can be found here.

To access Oceana’s full report, as well as an animation about how seismic airgun testing works, photos and other materials, please visit