Anger over seismic test risk to whales

A DECISION by the federal government to allow controversial seismic testing in waters between Warrnambool and Port Campbell has been slammed by environmentalists, who warn it could have deafening impacts on blue whales. 

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke ticked off plans by gas company WHL Energy to undertake high pressure air cannon testing in waters along the south-west coastline in November and December this year. 

But the approval has angered environmentalists, who are warning the underwater bangs will harm the hearing of blue whales. 

The government has slapped stringent restrictions on the exploration, including four “marine mammal observers”, who will board ships carrying out the testing. 

Air cannons will also be forced to either shut down or operate on lower levels if whales are sighted nearby. 

But the move has still drawn the ire of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which says the region is an important feeding area for blue whales.

Campaigner Matthew Collis pointed out that the largest ever sighting of blue whales, a pod of 70 spotted in 2012, was in the area WHL intended to test in. 

“Government guidelines are clear that seismic surveys should avoid places and time of year when whales are highly likely to be present,” Mr Collis said. 

“We can’t think of a clearer example of this than Australia’s largest ever sighting of blue whales. 

“People should view noise pollution the same way they view chemical pollution.

“The scientific community is slowly waking up to what a problem this is.” 

He said the fear was the giant mammals could be displaced from their feeding grounds, causing unknown repercussions. 

He knocked back suggestions that environmentalists opposed all off-shore gas mining exploration. 

“In Australia there are over 300 oil and gas reserves. We are talking about five areas that are special to whales,” Mr Collis said. 

WHL Energy has cited similar gas exploration in Western Australian, which it said had not caused any harm to whales. 

Exploration manager Matt Fittall confirmed the company would proceed in November and would not challenge any of the rules set down by the department. 

“WHL Energy will meet all of the requirements stipulated by the department,” Mr Fittall said. 

“We believe that there is sufficient time to acquire the proposed seismic survey in November and December with these restrictions in place.” 

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