New Study: Seismic Blasts Killed Melon-Headed Whales in Madagascar | Oceana

New Study: Seismic Blasts Killed Melon-Headed Whales in Madagascar

Press Release Date: September 26, 2013



Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

WASHINGTON – An international science review panel released the results of a new study, which found that seismic blasts by ExxonMobil off the coast of Madagascar in 2008 caused more than 100 melon-headed whales to become stranded in a dangerously shallow lagoon, where many of them later died from dehydration, starvation and sunlight exposure.  

Oceana, which is working to stop seismic blasts from taking place by oil and gas companies along the East Coast of the United States, released the following statement from Vice President for U.S. Oceans, Jacqueline Savitz:

“Oceana applauds the panel’s hard work to bring light to the horrifying realities of using seismic blasts as a first step to offshore drilling. Seismic activities will injure, and in some cases kill, marine mammals, possibly including endangered species like the right whale.

Because it is so difficult to prove cause and effect, this is the first time that a direct connection has been made between seismic blasts and the death of marine animals. It is likely, however, that many other mammals have been injured and killed by seismic airguns and other similar technologies in the past. While most of the harm to marine life remains out of sight, these dead whales are a sad reminder of the serious danger posed by seismic blasts to ocean life.

Seismic blasts can disturb the vital behaviors of dolphins and whales such as breathing, feeding, mating and communicating. This can quickly turn deadly when animals are startled into rushing to the surface or are driven into shallower areas, where they often die as these whales did.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is considering the use of seismic airguns, which are even louder than the devices that killed these whales, along the East Coast in an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from Delaware to Florida.

If the use of seismic airguns is allowed in the Atlantic, we could see much greater impacts than those in Madagascar. In fact, the government’s own estimates show that seismic blasts along the East Coast would injure 138,500 dolphins and whales, including nine critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only approximately 500 left in the world. Some of these injuries will likely result in death, which is indefensible for a whale population that is teetering on the brink of extinction.

Seismic blasts and offshore drilling along our coasts would 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.

With offshore drilling in the Atlantic at least five years away, seismic airguns are an unnecessary insult to marine life and coastal economies. Our message is simple; do not turn the Atlantic into a blast zone – reject the proposed use of seismic airguns.

Oceana is also calling on the government to include new marine mammal acoustic guidelines in its impact analysis before making a final decision. These guidelines, expected later this year, will likely show that a much larger number of marine mammals will be harmed by seismic airguns than is estimated now, so this information is critically important to consider before allowing such testing in our waters.”

Earlier this month, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), calling on the government to reject the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic Ocean. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as about 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, have also called on President Obama to stop the proposed use of seismic airguns.

During September and October, Oceana will be holding public forums about the threats of seismic airguns off the East Coast in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Please check here for information on a forum in near you.

To read Oceana’s new report about the threats of seismic airguns to marine life and coastal economies along the East Coast, please click here. And to watch Oceana’s video about seismic blasts, please click here.

For more information about Oceana’s efforts to Stop Seismic Airguns, please visit