IWC greatly concerned about Russian oil exploration impacts on Western Gray Whales

25 June 2010 | News story

At the International Whaling Commission (IWC) annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco, scientists warned that a seismic survey planned off Sakhalin Island by the Russian petroleum company Rosneft could seriously threaten the critically endangered Western Gray Whale population.

In a report released this week, the IWC Scientific Committee stated that it is “extremely concerned” about the potential impact on western gray whales and strongly recommended that Rosneft postpone their survey until at least June 2011. IWC delegates from many countries, including the United States, Mexico and Britain, backed the recommended postponement of the Rosneft seismic survey.

As currently planned, the Rosneft survey will occur in late July 2010, when the highest number of feeding gray whales, including mothers and calves, are in the area. Studies have shown that noise from seismic surveys can seriously injure whales and hamper their ability to communicate and feed. Scientists therefore recommend that seismic surveys should be undertaken as early as possible in the ice-free season (early June to mid-July), before most whales have arrived in the area to feed.

The IWC Scientific Committee also recommended that Rosneft use monitoring and mitigation measures similar to those used by Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (Sakhalin Energy), which have been independently reviewed by experts. Sakhalin Energy has been working since 2006 with an independent panel of scientists (the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel), convened by IUCN, to minimize the impacts of their operations on whales. Sakhalin Energy had agreed to postpone their survey from 2009 to early in 2010 because of concern over the change in distribution and behaviour observed in 2008.

The IUCN Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, sent a letter to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month to urge the Russian government to intervene to postpone the seismic survey. However, no response from the Russian Government has been received so far.

For more information, please contact Beatrice Riche (beatrice.riche@iucn.org).