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Whale of a win: Environmental victory protects whales from noise pollution

Michael Jasny, director of the NRDC Marine Mammal Project, contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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Here you have several dozen small, coastal communities of bottlenose dolphins, which have undergone a severe die-off since the spill; a resident population of Bryde's whales, of which fewer than 50 individuals were believed to remain even before the spill occurred; and a population of strangely undersized sperm whales, whose nursery in Mississippi Canyon was ground zero for the spill.

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Ultimately, our society must find mechanisms that reduce the industry's chronic, cumulative impacts on these imperiled animals.

Last summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mapped average annual levels of ocean noise from Texas to the west coast of Florida, and found that noise from airgun surveys alone was approaching 120 decibels throughout much of the northern Gulf. That’s a yearly average level of noise that, for whales and dolphins, nearly exceeds the government's standard threshold of harm for exposures of only one second.

Area closures will be needed like the ones in today's agreement, but also caps on activities, prohibitions on duplicative surveys, and mandates for the use of vibroseis and other greener seismic technologies. Those solutions tackle the problem at the source, and the Obama administration will certainly have to consider them in the comprehensive review that our agreement affords.

Today's settlement represents a new starting point and an opportunity to make up for years of regulatory neglect. Now the real work begins.

RECOMMENDED: Monsters of the deep

Read Jasny's most recent Op-Ed Naval Exercises Take Deadly Toll on Dolphins.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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