Western Gray Whales

Mr. Alexey B. Miller
Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors
16 Nametkina St.
117997, Moscow, V-420. GSP-7

Mr. Sergey Bogdanchikov
President of Rosneft
Chairman of Rosneft’s Management Board
26/1, Sofiyskaya Embankment
1, GSP-8 117997
Moscow, Russia

CEO Rex W. Tillerson
ExxonMobil Corporation
5959 Las Colinas Boulevard
Irving, Texas 75039-2298

CEO Peter Mather
British Petroleum
International Headquarters
1 St James’s Square
London, SW1Y 4PD UK

Exxon Neftegas Limited
28 Sakhalinskaya Street
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia 693000

Mr. Mikhailov Y.N.
Acting Director General
CJSC Elvary Neftegaz
78, Chekhova Street
693008 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
Russian Federation

April 22, 2010

The Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy urges all parties involved in hydrocarbon exploration and production on the Sakhalin shelf to participate in the conservation of western gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus).

Western gray whales have been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN,; the single remnant population contains approximately 130 individuals. The northeastern shelf of Sakhalin Island, Russia is the critical feeding ground for this population and western gray whales depend on this area for much of their food.

Hydrocarbon exploration and production activities in this area could have severe adverse impacts on this population by disrupting feeding in preferred areas, leading possibly to detrimental effects on individual whales and the gray whale population as a whole. Researchers reported the displacement of whales during a seismic survey in 2001 and behavioral observations made during that period indicated that some whales spent less time feeding and more time traveling when exposed to seismic noise. Deciphering the impact of such changes will require detailed studies of prey distribution, foraging ecology, and continued population monitoring.

In 2004, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC) formed an Independent Scientific Review Panel, whose mandate was to evaluate the risks to gray whales from SEIC’s activities on the Sakhalin shelf. An important result of this review was a recommendation to relocate a major pipeline going from offshore platforms to Sakhalin Island. The originally planned route of the pipeline passed through some areas used most intensively by feeding gray whales. SEIC accepted the Panel’s judgment and chose a longer, but safer (from the point of view of the whales) route for the pipeline. The pipeline is now in operation and, although the relocation incurred some additional cost, it provided a tangible benefit to the whales. The success of this process led to the formation of the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel, another partnership between IUCN and SEIC.

Oil and gas exploration and production activities will continue on the Sakhalin shelf for decades. Seismic air gun surveys will continue, as the industry needs to track the resources in the fields to maintain production. The planning of these seismic surveys by SEIC is another example of how the process administered by the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel can minimize the impacts of industrial activity on gray whales. For example, an upcoming SEIC seismic survey has been scheduled to occur when the fewest whales are present on the feeding grounds, and the company has consulted extensively with the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel to develop a detailed, robust monitoring and mitigation program.

The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel process, in collaboration with SEIC, has clearly had some notable success. However, SEIC is only one of several oil companies operating on the Sakhalin shelf. To fully minimize impacts of hydrocarbon exploration and production on western gray whales, it is essential that all companies operating in the region participate in the process.

Therefore, the Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy urges all parties involved in hydrocarbon exploration and production on the Sakhalin shelf and around the Sea of Okhotsk to participate in the WGWAP process and:

  • inform the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel of all exploration and production activities planned and occurring off Sakhalin;
  • work co-operatively with the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel to minimize adverse impacts of these activities on this critically endangered population of whales.
  • adopt and follow the recommendations of the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel.

Thank you for considering our suggestions about this important conservation matter.


Signature - Andrew J. Read
Andrew J. Read, Ph.D.
President, Society for Marine Mammalogy

Gray whale conservation in Mexico

The Honorable Julia Carabias Lillo
Secretaria De Medio Ambiente Recursos
Naturales Y Pesca
Periferico Sur No. 4209, 5 Piso
14210 Mexico, D.F.

Dear Secretary Carabias:

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is an international scientific organization whose membership conduct research on marine mammalsaround the world. The Society currently includes approximately 1,400 marine science professionals and students living and working in North, Central, and South America, Europe, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

The Committee of Scientific Advisors to the Board of Governors of the Society acknowledges the concern for the continued health of the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population posed by the proposed Eportadora De Sal evaporative salt manufacturing facility at Laguna San Ignacio. The facility would be located adjacent to an important lagoon breeding habitat for these whales. This unique wildlife area is also utilized by scores of species of marine birds, and it supports economically important populations of fish, and shellfish. In recent years the Laguna San Ignacio area is the center of a growing eco-tourism industry that promises to bring prosperity to the local community.

As you are aware, the recovery of the Easern North Pacific population of gray whale from endangered status was the result of international protection since 1936, and particularly the decision by Mexico to provide protection to this species’ breeding and calving lagoons along the west coast of Baja California. Scientific evidence indicates that these lagoons are preferred habitats for gray whales, and that a large portion of the population gives birth to their young and breed each winter in these lagoons and adjacent coastal areas. In recognition of the importance of these areas, in the 1970’s Mexico established by Presidential decree gray whale refuges in the lagoons of Guerrero Negro, Ojo De Liebre, and San Ignacio. In addition, all three of these areas are located within the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve that was established in 1988 and is also a World Heritage Site.

The conservation of marine species, their habitats and ecosystems need not impede economic development or prosperity. However, neither should development activities disadvantage marine species and their habitats. Scientific advice, based on biological, social, and economic considerations, should be an integral part of the planning and development process. This advice must identify critical uncertainties as well as established facts, and inform managers, developers, and the public of the potential consequences of alternatives before development begins. In addition, it is essential that research and monitoring programs precede and accompany development to allow detection and analysis of any changes in the affected species status or their habitats may result from the development. In this way, potentially detrimental actions may be identified and avoided before problems develop.

For these reasons, the Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy supports the decision of the Secretaria De Medio Ambiente Recursos Naturales Y Pesca (SEMARNAP) to incorporate the expert advice of recognized international scientists in your evaluation of the proposed Eportadora De Sal project, and to seek the views and opinions of the residents of Baja California that would be most affected by the proposed development. Incorporation of this information into the decision making process is fundamental to developing an informed decision on an issue as important as the proposed salt manufacturing project.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy has in its membership many internationally recognized scientists with expertise on marine mammals, complex marine environments, and the conservation of marine species. We would be pleased to provide SEMARNAP with the names of scientific experts who would be able to provide information about marine mammals and marine environments in areas relevant to your specific conservation concerns.

Sincerely yours,

Jeanette A. Thomas, Ph.D.