Waves of Change: Lonely Whale Foundation and Oceana Seek to Mobilize Ocean Support

The following op-ed was submitted by The Lonely Whale Foundation, founded by actor and activist Adrian Grenier, in association with Oceana, an international organization focused solely on oceans that employs and is supported by numerous HLS alumni.

Plastic. Pesticides. Oil. Herbicides. Runoff. Sewage. The ocean already faces pollution accumulation from a growing industrial world and its wasteful practices. Unfortunately, there is another pollutant to add to the extensive list – noise. Noise pollution is a serious, pervasive issue that is growing as shipping routes expand, offshore activity increases and human presence encroaches further into the oceans. Recent studies have highlighted the widespread negative effects of manmade noise pollution. Noise pollution is disruptive of marine species’ natural behaviors that are vital to healthy functioning ecosystems. At worst, it can cause injuries that can lead to death. As scientific studies increase awareness of the damage noise pollution is causing, we must be proactive about mitigating its negative impact through policy change. Oceana, the largest international organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation, and The Lonely Whale Foundation (LWF), a social enterprise established to create collaborative philanthropy in pursuit of ocean conservation, are two organizations at the forefront of research and opposition to the rise of noise pollution.

Inspired by the documentary film about the search for the 52 Hertz Whale (“52”), a whale that is considered to have spent its entire life in solitude searching for its pod, the Lonely Whale Foundation partnered with the Chicago-based Academy for Global Citizenship to develop a bi-lingual, in-classroom ocean education program for children in Kindergarten through sixth grades. The team behind the film, Alldayeveryday and Reckless Productions, realized an opportunity to bring the story of 52 into classrooms and in so doing begin to develop stronger connections with the ocean and the animals that depend on a healthy marine environment. The curriculum will increase awareness of ocean health issues in an engaging format, with its first focus on ocean sounds and the critical impact noise pollution has on the marine environment.

“The Lonely Whale is both a beautiful life form deserving of companionship as well as a powerful metaphor for how our inability to communicate with each other leads to misunderstanding of how our actions negatively impact the marine environment,” said co‐founder, Adrian Grenier. “We have taken a leadership role to deliver curriculum that helps our children develop empathy for marine life and take beneficial actions that create a nurturing environment. This, along with policy change, is a critical complement to effect awareness more quickly. Together, with organizations such as Oceana, we can mobilize our society to ensure that these creatures do not disappear from our world.”

One of the most intense forms of noise pollution and one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean today is seismic airgun blasting – a harmful method of oil and gas exploration. Seismic airgun sounds can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source under some propagation conditions, farther than the distance from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas. Now, imagine it repeating every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks at a time. If it happened in your home, it could be unbearable. That is the fate of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and marine life along the Atlantic coast if the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) opens the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to oil exploration and drilling.

A swath of the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida, is currently being considered for seismic airgun blasting permits by the U.S. government. The blasting process involves a ship towing an array of approximately 12-48 individual airguns that emit loud pulses of compressed air through the water column and into the seafloor. The sea surface area covered by the largest towed seismic arrays is 21 times greater than the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The blasts penetrate miles into the seafloor, bounce back, and reflect information about the location of buried oil and gas deposits. The blasts can have a number of impacts on marine species – widespread displacement, disruption of vital behaviors like foraging and breeding, and the possibility of injuries and death.

The proposed blasting site, which is twice the size of California, is not only home to countless marine animals but also supports fishing and tourism jobs and generates revenue. Commercial and recreational fishing off the mid‐ and south Atlantic generate $11.8 billion annually and support 220,000 jobs. Seismic airgun blasting could impact the livelihoods of those living in Atlantic waters and along the coastline. Oceana has been using grassroots mobilization and engagement with the agency responsible for permitting seismic airgun blasting for years to oppose seismic airgun blasting, reduce noise pollution and stop the dangerous cycle of oil drilling, spilling and repeating before it begins off the East Coast.

In March 2015, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to the President urging him “to reject the Interior Department’s analysis and its decision to introduce seismic oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic.” Oceana has educated citizens, Chambers of Commerce, Regional Fishery Management Councils, and local associations up and down the East Coast about the dangers and threats of seismic airgun blasting. In response, over 100 local municipalities have formally opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. The Mid‐Atlantic and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils have written to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management expressing their opposition to seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic. The Mid-Atlantic Council cited “insufficient information about how the specific proposed G&G [geologic & geophysical] activities may affect fish, mammals, benthic communities, and ecosystem structure and function.” In January, over 75 coastal leaders attended the Coastal Voices Summit in Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to abandon his plans to open the Atlantic to offshore drilling and exploration.

By changing policy at the national level and raising public awareness of the issues facing the ocean, Oceana and the Lonely Whale Foundation are taking action to mitigate noise pollution and protect ocean species.

For more information, please visit www.lonelywhale.org

For more information, please visit www.oceana.org

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