A group of animal rights activists yesterday called on the US government to reject a proposal by the Columbia University-affiliated Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (L-DEO) to conduct earthquake studies on Taiwan’s sea floor, saying that air guns used in the project would harm the near-extinct Chinese white dolphins living in the area.
“Taiwan’s population of Chinese white dolphins (Sousa chinensis) was rated ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008; currently, we estimate that less than 100 animals exist,” said Allen Chen (陳昭倫), spokesperson for the East Taiwan Strait Sousa Technique and Advisory Working Group.
Chen, who is an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Research Center for Biodiversity, said that although Chinese white dolphins are also found along the coasts of China, India and east Africa, “studies have revealed that [the Chinese white dolphin] population in Taiwan never crosses the Taiwan Strait and therefore is independent from the rest of the Chinese white dolphins in the world.”
Earlier last month, Chen’s group and the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (WaH), an environmental group, found a public announcement on the US’ National Marine Fisheries Service Web site saying that the L-DEO planned to conduct a sea floor investigation project in the exclusive economic zone that includes Taiwan, China, Japan and the Philippines for its earthquake research, Chen said.
“The transect line will hit the dolphin’s habitat from Hsinchu to Yunlin along the island’s west coast,” he said.
“Air guns that are 265 decibels [dB], multibeam echosounders and sub-bottom profilers will be used under the sea in the project,” said WaH founder Robin Winkler (文魯彬), adding that the noise level of an exploding atomic bomb is about 300db.
Chen said although L-DEO had applied for Incidental Harassment Authorization under the condition that only Level B Harassments (potential disturbances) based on the US’ Marine Mammal Protection Act would be done to the mammal stock, Level A Harassments (potential injuries) are in fact highly likely.
“To the dolphins, this is like firing gigantic ‘firecrackers’ in their homes ... As dolphins navigate with sound waves, this will grossly disturb their movement, in addition to shocking the animals,” he said.
Chen also said the environmental impact assessment on the project was poorly done.
“All data were drawn from existing documents and guesstimates from past experiences, instead of sending researchers to Taiwan to investigate life in the seas,” he said.
“We acknowledge that [earthquake] investigations are very important and know that many technologies are used to make the world a better place. However, when a technology threatens existing ecosystems, its implementation needs to be reconsidered, and alternative options explored,” Green Party Taiwan Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said.