CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - First Congressional District Rep. Joe Cunningham used an air horn to make a point during a hearing on seismic testing in asking a question about whether the controversial practice is disruptive or harmful to sea life.
Cunningham was asking questions about seismic blasting about whether the practice is “extremely loud and disruptive,” but NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver said he had not experienced the sound firsthand.
The Committee on Natural Resources’ Water, Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee was holding a hearing on the North Atlantic right whales. The NOAA website describes the North Atlantic right whale as one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, saying only about 450 remain.
In video posted to Facebook by the Coastal Conservation League, Cunningham first asks for permission to sound the air horn and gives anyone who feels they would find it bothersome a moment to leave the room if they wish. He then gives a short blast of the horn.
“Is that disruptive, Mr. Oliver?" Cunningham said.
“It was irritating but I didn’t find it particularly disruptive, no” Oliver said.
“How about, every, say, 10 seconds, like seismic air gun blasting goes on for days, weeks, months?” Cunningham said.
“If I were that close to it, yeah, probably,” he said.
Cunningham went on to ask Oliver how much louder he thought seismic blasting would feel to marine life than the air horn blast felt to those in the room. When Oliver was unable to even guess an amount, Cunningham said it is 16,000 times louder to marine life.
In a subsequent Facebook post, Cunningham wrote:
Today, I brought an air horn to a hearing on North Atlantic Right Whales, to demonstrate how disruptive seismic airgun blasting is to marine life. It was LOUD.
Now imagine that sound 16,000 times louder, repeated every ten seconds for days, weeks, and months. Imagine how disruptive that would be, especially if you depend on sound to communicate and navigate.
That’s what seismic airgun blasting does to our marine life. South Carolinians do not want offshore drilling on our shores, and we don’t want its disruptive precursor, seismic airgun blasting.
Oliver testified the leading causes of known mortality for North Atlantic right whales are vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. He said NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is responsible for stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat and has been working to save the whales which were nearly hunted to the brink of extinction.