Summary

In recent years, the potential impacts from anthropogenic sound on marine life, including from geophysical operations, have received increasing attention and scrutiny from government regulators, environmental non-governmental organizations, fishing associations, media outlets and the public. Often triggered by regulatory initiatives, exploration efforts, or marine mammal stranding events, allegations about the impact of seismic surveys on marine life frequently surface in public campaigns opposed to the offshore exploration and production of fossil fuels. More than four decades of worldwide seismic surveying and scientific research have shown that the risk of direct physical injury to marine mammals is extremely low, and there is no evidence that sound from seismic activity results in any biologically significant negative impacts on marine life populations. Nevertheless, modern communications such as online media outlets and blogs enable rapid dissemination of misleading headlines and assertions of harm not supported by empirical evidence or environmental impact assessments. In several instances, misinformation has resulted in the delay, modification or cancellation of planned seismic surveys. This paper will review recent case studies and examples of misinformation, including the 2008 stranding of melon-headed whales in Madagascar, the 2012 mass dolphin stranding event in Peru and recent regulatory efforts to permit seismic surveys on the US Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf and the public grassroots campaigns opposing these efforts. The review will also analyze how these case studies have influenced trends in mitigation and monitoring guidelines and regulatory initiatives.

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