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Seismological research project will likely injure or kill marine mammals

Orca Network

8th July 2003

A massive international (US/Canada/Japan) seismological research project is planned for late August and early September 2003, off the south coast of Vancouver Island. This project will use an extremely large air cannon, firing at a volume of 243dB. We understand that this level is higher than the seismic tests in Baja that killed beaked whales (see below). Apparently very few people or agencies knew about this project until the past week. By all appearances, this project was greased along the review process with incomplete data and now is being hurried up to meet a very tight and fast-looming time frame. Severe trauma to marine mammals will almost certainly result from this project if it is allowed to continue as planned, including the Southern Resident Community of orcas which is listed as Depleted under the MMPA in the US and as Endangered under the SARA in Canada.

The CASSIS project

The intro says:
"On the Cascadia convergent margin, massive earthquakes of magnitude 9 or greater occur every 200-600 years, while damaging earthquakes near magnitude 7 occur approximately every 30 years. We propose a major seismological study, the CAScadia collaborative SeISmic experiment (CASSIS), to determine the structural and geodynamical controls on these major earthquakes in southwest British Columbia. We have a short window of opportunity to collaborate with Japanese seismologists, who are willing to allocate significant resources with a value of more than $2M, to a study of Cascadia. The Japanese propose to bring to Canada a modern seismic vessel and about 60 ocean bottom seismometers. We propose to support an active-source marine program with our own research vessel and personnel, and to extend the offshore survey across Vancouver Island and partly the Mainland by deploying at least 100 land seismometers to record the offshore airgun shots and about 10 large dynamite shots in drill holes on land. Complementary passive recording of small local earthquakes will be accomplished using broadband ocean-bottom and land seismometers during a three-month deployment. Earthquakes will also be recorded by the new Canadian semi-portable seismograph network POLARIS and permanent networks run by the Geological Survey of Canada and the University of Washington."

The planned explosions could seriously harm marine mammals that inhabit the south end of Vancouver Island. NOAA Fisheries started getting information about this project only about two or three weeks ago. Canadian DFO had received a permit application, apparently containing inaccurate information, and issued a permit on May 30, giving some guidance to the Canadian researchers in charge of the project including some information on safety buffer zones. DFO has since realized their error with respect to issuing the CASSIS permit, and they have now rescinded the earlier 'recommended mitigations' that they had submitted. Presumably they are now working on a much larger and more stringent set of mitigations.

A number of researchers on the US side are coming forward with information on marine mammal distribution and densities during the proposed work window and on further mitigations. At this time, it appears that the only link the US has to the project is via data collection through shore-based passive listening seismometers. The matter is being discussed at the highest levels in Washington.

The public needs to be informed that the Japanese research vessel Kairei is scheduled to arrive in Victoria on August 7 and that the work is slated to begin approximately August 27 - a time when whales (orcas, humpbacks and several other species) are known to be in the area. That leaves very little time to offer input or organize proper mitigations. The looming date also gives up or fails to acknowledge the fact that the single MOST IMPORTANT mitigation they could do is to POSTPONE the experiment until winter when fewer whales are in the area.
Time is of the essence.

A report of a previous incident that occurred in Baja, California, October 2002 is shown below

Judge Halts Baja Research After Two Whale Deaths

SAN FRANCISCO, California,

29th October 2002 (ENS) - A federal district court judge ordered the National Science Foundation to stop using high decibel airguns in the Gulf of California yesterday, citing concern over possible harm to whales that environmentalists believe the research project has caused.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) had been using the airguns to fire high-energy acoustic bursts at the sea floor to help map a fault in the earth's crust.
It is these high energy acoustic bursts that The Center for Biological Diversity believes is the likely cause of the death of two beaked whales, which found stranded on September 25 at Isla San Jose in the Gulf of California which separates Mexico's Baja Peninsula from mainland Mexico."

Please help us get the word out about the CASSIS Project to the public and to decision makers on both sides of the border, to prevent this unnecessary threat to our marine mammals.

Susan Berta and Howard Garrett
Orca Network
2403 S. North Bluff Rd
Greenbank,WA 98253

(360) 678-3451