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Shell-led Russia venture to monitor rare whales

Date: 19-Aug-04
Country: RUSSIA
Author: Maria Golovnina

The International Whaling Commission passed a motion last month saying energy exploration could kill off the 100 or so remaining grey whales on the oil-rich shelf near Russia’s Pacific coast and asked for some surveys to stop.

Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd., operator of the multi-billion dollar Sakhalin-2 project, described its monitoring plan as “the most comprehensive and largest whale project funded solely by industry for whales anywhere in the world.”

“The objectives of the Western Grey Whale behaviour study are to ascertain baseline feeding and other behaviours, and behaviours potentially affected by industrial activities,” it said in a statement.

The remaining whales – who appear near Sakhalin Island in summer and withdraw to deeper waters in winter – can only feed from the sea bed.

That restricts their feeding ground to within a few kilometres (miles) from the Sakhalin coast – the area where an underwater pipeline is due to be laid.

Ecologists said the planned study was not enough to ensure the survival of the species. “That’s not enough. Research work cannot automatically protect whales,” said Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace in Moscow.

“Whales are not going to be better off because human beings get to know more about them. First of all, we think that drilling and other operations need to be moved elsewhere.”

The Sakhalin venture, which includes Japan’s Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corp (8058.T: Quote, Profile, Research) , says much of the knowledge about the rare mammals is the result of their research and monitoring programmes conducted in the Pacific since 1997. It has spent $5 million on whale projects since the late 1990s.

It plans to build a seabed pipeline as well an offshore platform near Sakhalin Island. Shell also plans to build the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas plant there by 2006 and start gas shipments in 2007.

Sakhalin Energy said its programme includes acoustic monitoring work, seabed studies and whale behaviour surveys.

“At least 10 new calves were identified in 2003,” it said. “While this is the highest number of calves recorded since the studies began, it is not expected again this year as these whales give birth on average once every three years…

“The birth of so many calves last year is encouraging.”

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