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An animal welfare group has released research which it says proves it is too risky to drill for oil



Bight Petroleum is currently applying to the Federal Government to explore the region for resources beneath the ocean floor.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says the area is a whale hot spot and that any sub-sea drilling could harm the population.

Scientists have long suspected the area is used by whales for breeding and feeding, but have lacked the evidence to prove it.

But the group says that is no longer the case after an acoustic analysis of the area captured the sounds of sperm whale pods.

The organisation's lead researcher, Sharon Livermore, says data gathered using underwater microphones pulled behind a boat demonstrates the global importance of the region as a whale habitat.

"[What] IFAW say about oil and gas development in this area is it could drive the animals from this area, " she said.

"It's obviously very important to them for feeding, for breeding and also in their day-to-day communication and prey avoidance.

"It isn't as simple that they can just move away. If these areas are as important to them as we think they are, it could have detrimental effects on the population level."

'Blown out of proportion'

IFAW has sent a copy of its research to Bight Petroleum, which has conducted aerial surveys and wants to carry out seismic testing about 100 kilometres offshore.

The company has hit back at the claims, arguing the research is flawed and that its development plans have stringent safety protections.

Chief Executive Matthew Philipchuk has criticised the group's methods.

"I did notice that they did not conduct a survey over any of what you would call a 'controlled area', " he said.

"So in order for one thing to be a 'hot spot' you would need a 'cold spot'. Or you would need another area that showed that it was not as active."

Mr Philipchuk says there is no evidence seismic surveys harm whales and says there are stringent safeguards in place.

"A lot has been blown out of proportion with regards to the thought that seismic acquisitions can impact whales because there's basically no science that says that there has been an impact on any whale species anywhere in the world from seismic acquisitions, " he said.

"We have a two kilometre shutdown so if we see whales even within two kilometres we're going to shutdown all the equipment.

"This is one of the regulations required by, this is an Australian regulation for seismic acquisition which is in many ways, it's four times greater than the shutdown used in areas like the US and the UK."

Earlier this year, the Federal Government ordered a full environmental assessment of the proposed survey work.

The World Today By Eliza Harvey
Aug 14, 2013 4:21pm


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