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Close Encounter with Majestic Sperm Whale Should Inspire Action

At 598 meters (1,962 ft) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, ROV Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. The whale circled Hercules several times and gave our cameras the chance to capture some incredible footage of this beautiful creature. Encounters between sperm whales and ROV's are quite rare. (Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust)

After exclaiming “What the heck is that?!” a chorus of “wow’s” erupted as scientists realized a sperm whale was paying a visit to their ROV during a deep-sea dive. Though the scientists are on a six-month long expedition at sea, they still marveled at their unexpected guest as it swam near a remote camera on Tuesday. Sperm whales, which can average a whopping 52 feet in length, are currently listed as a vulnerable species, making the encounter rare. With over 142,000 views, many people on Facebook and Twitter agree the sperm whale was a sight to behold. Videos like this delight on social media. Whether a rare deep-sea encounter or home video of the large mammals nearly toppling startled kayakers, whales continue to capture our attention. Despite the outpouring of enthusiasm, whales are currently facing a serious threat from humans.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is considering allowing geophysical companies, working on behalf of the oil and gas industry, to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic blasting releases bursts of compressed air to locate oil and gas deposits deep beneath the ocean floor. These dynamite-like blasts occur every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks and even months on end. The resulting noise represents a significant threat to marine life in the proposed region, which spans an area twice the size of California, from Delaware to Florida.

In a recent letter to President Obama, 75 leading marine scientists urged him to reject allowing seismic blasting to occur in the Atlantic. The scientists explained seismic testing has been shown to disrupt activities essential to feeding and reproduction over vast ocean areas for blue and other endangered whales.  Additionally, these blasts can increase the risk of calves being separated from their mothers, the effects of which can be lethal, and, over time, cause chronic behavioral and physiological stress, suppressing reproduction and increasing mortality and morbidity. Whales are not the only marine life that would be affected by seismic testing. Dolphins, turtles, and commercially valuable fish species could also see disastrous repercussions from the intrusive blasts.

Opening the U.S. East Coast to seismic airgun exploration for oil and gas development poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life. According to government estimates, 138,000 marine mammals such as sperm whales, and dolphins could soon be injured and some even possibly killed if these blasts happen. Seismic blasting in the Atlantic is the first major step toward offshore drilling, which further harms the marine environment through habitual leaks, oil spills, habitat destruction and carbon pollution.

While we marvel and share the most recent video of the majestic whale encounter, we must also consider how we can save these amazing creatures. Unless action is taken, seismic blasting is expected to occur on the U.S. East Coast as early as this summer. By adding your name to an online petition, you can help to protect whales and our oceans by telling the government to prevent seismic blasting. Saving the whales will not only ensure a healthy ocean for years to come, but also plenty more “wow” moments for us to enjoy.

Jaime McClain

Jaime McClain is a Campaigns Communications intern at Oceana.

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