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Scientists Urge End to Tests in Maui’s Dolphin Habitat


World’s Marine Mammal Scientists Urge End to Seismic Tests in Maui’s Dolphin Habitat

In a letter to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) urges the government to immediately halt seismic testing in Maui’s dolphin habitat.

With a membership of some 2,000 scientists from 60 countries, the SMM is the world's largest professional body dedicated to research on marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them.

The SMM’s letter is concerned with seismic surveys off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, which is the final refuge of the little known Maui’s dolphin, the smallest and rarest dolphin on earth.

The SMM states that allowing seismic testing in the dolphins’ habitat may harm their hearing and push them into unprotected areas, where they are more exposed to fishing nets.

Fishing is the primary cause of death among the last 55 surviving Maui’s dolphins. Gillnets and trawling kill about nine percent of the population a year – that’s 75 times more than the sustainable limit.

The SMM highlights that a proposed seismic project off California in the US was rejected because of its anticipated harm to porpoises. “It should be noted that the potential seriousness of the impact of the seismic activity was considered excessive for a stock of over 2,000 individuals that has no current conservation concerns,” writes SMM President Professor Helene Marsh. The impact on the 55 remaining Maui’s dolphins could be devastating. “Allowing this seismic testing thus appears inconsistent with the New Zealand Governm­­ent's stated goal of enabling this subspecies to recover.”
 
Seismic testing involves shooting noisy blasts of compressed air towards the ocean floor every 15-20 seconds, around the clock, for weeks or months on end. These airgun signals are intensely loud as they must penetrate deep into the ocean floor to reveal buried pockets of oil and gas. They can harm whales, dolphins, and porpoises, as well as fish.

“Twenty-four cetacean species have shown negative effects to marine noise pollution,” says NABU International’s Head of International Species Conservation, Dr. Barbara Maas. “Noise is a well known stressor, not just for marine mammals. We are therefore also concerned about the sublethal effects of seismic testing. Chronic stress can heighten susceptibility to other threats and slow down population recovery by suppressing reproduction and the immune system. It can even harm unborn dolphins prenatally, all of which Maui’s dolphins can ill afford.”

The SMM also reiterated its earlier conservation message to the New Zealand government. In February the Society advocated an immediate ban of gillnet and trawl fisheries across all Maui’s dolphin habitat to prevent their extinction, “I encourage you to act quickly and decisively to provide the leadership in marine conservation that the world expects of your country,” wrote Prof. Marsh.

“NABU International is delighted that the SMM is speaking up about the urgent need to safeguard this species”, says Dr. Maas. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming. But instead of protecting the dolphins’ against fishing nets, the government is actively encouraging a host of environmentally damaging activities across their home.”

“We are strongly opposed to seismic testing in Maui’s dolphin habitat and support the use of renewable energy. Oil and gas exploration leads to oil and gas exploitation, which involves further dangers to the marine environment through offshore drilling, spills, leaks, and increased fossil fuel emissions.

More information on www.hectorsdolphins.com.

ENDS

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