Were whales stranded and killed in New Zealand the first victims of Seabed 2030 program?

On April 4, 2018, a group of tourists discovered 38 stranded pilot whales near Haast, New Zealand. The area was somewhat remote, the weather was bad, so no rescue was attempted and surviving 12 whales were shot in the head, as usual. Also, as usual, there was no comprehensive investigation, forensic necropsy to determine the cause.

On a normal day, this stranding would be brushed off as a “sad but natural event” but the thing is, Seabed 2030 announced just a few weeks ago that the project is live and functional.

If you never heard about Seabed 2030, it is basically ocean floor mapping initiative funded by Nippon Foundation. We are still trying to figure out how exactly how the mapping will be done, but based on Seabed 2030 project descriptions, they will be using industrial strength multibeam echo sounders to map the ocean floor. They will be either be contracting directly seismic survey companies to do targeted surveys, to give incentives to various companies, and vessels to do multibeam echo sounder surveys when they are offshore (like when a seismic survey vessel goes from point A to point B in transit) or perhaps just buy already existing bathymetry data from these companies. The point is there will be many more industrial strength multibeam echo sounders operating in world oceans between now and 2030. Plus, these surveys will be mostly done offshore, where pelagic cetaceans prone to stranding live.

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We wrote about this before, but there is evidence that multibeam echo sounders used by seismic companies to map the ocean floor are linked to mass stranding, as in the Madagascar case. (IWC page)

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Now, important disclaimer, we have NOT enough information to argue a definite link, but we are reporting the facts, which anyone can check for themselves.

It appears that there was a seismic survey by Amazon Warrior in February /March 400 km from the stranding site. But there has been another vessel in the area, 500 km away from the stranding site. The vessel is called M/V Southern Star and the marine traffic website shows it as active in the area. This vessel is interesting because it is a support vessel for subsea operations. So why is the Southern Star important in regard to the recent mass stranding? The Southern Star belongs to a seismic survey company called Fugro, and Fugro announced on February 26 that they will be supporting and working closely with Seabed 2030.

Another interesting part is how Fugro plans to participate; they wrote that “One of the primary ways Fugro is supporting Seabed 2030 is through crowdsourced bathymetry data contributions.” And also, that “In 2017 the company devised a methodology for collecting valuable high-resolution bathymetry datasets while its vessels are transiting between survey projects. The approach is made possible through Fugro’s Office Assisted Remote Services (OARS), its proprietary technology that enables safe and efficient data acquisition without the need for dedicated survey staff on board. In this way, valuable data can be collected from transiting vessels with minimal effect on Fugro’s standard operating procedures.”

Even more troubling is Fugro now plans to eventually equip its whole seismic survey fleet with industrial strength echo sounders. “The company has recently expanded that collection capacity to include four survey vessels and intends eventually to incorporate the approach across its entire global survey fleet to make an increasingly significant impact on the Seabed 2030 program.”

This should really scare everyone reading it. In the past, seismic survey companies tended to deny they even use multibeam echo sounders and now we know they do. We also know that industrial strength echo sounders cause mass stranding. Furthermore, we also know that Seabed 2030 is planning to crowdsource 700(!) vessels to do bathymetry surveys for them.

The main issue with mass stranding is that they flat out were under investigated or not investigated at all. So this recent NZ stranding was not investigated, crucial data was lost, and there is no way to provide a definite link. With 700 vessels operating multibeam echo sounders in the world oceans, one can image what will it mean for cetaceans! How was Seabed 2030 even allowed? Why do oceanographic institutions and research centers support it? Was the risk of causing mass stranding even discussed?

We need to be extra vigilant at this point because Seabed 2030 is now operational but stranding is handled just like they were in the past: whales are routinely killed, the stranding is called “mother nature at work,” and there is no comprehensive investigation. The industry is delighted by this state of misery because as long as stranding is handled this way, all culprits basically get a free pass to do what they want to the world’s oceans and their inhabitants.

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