Exxon Ignores Pleas from 50,000 People to Halt Damaging Activities that Threaten Rare Whales Says World Wildlife Fund and Pacific Environment

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World Wildlife Fund and Pacific Environment Petition Exxon to Suspend Activities Near Critically Endangered Whale Habitat in Russian Far East

Gray Whale © Gustavo YBARRA / WWF-Canon

The western gray whale population is at great risk of extinction

More than 50,000 people have demanded that oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and several other companies suspend damaging industrial activities that harm the western gray whale, one of the world's most critically endangered whales.

The thousands of signatures from around the world were delivered on petitions to the CEO and the entire board of directors of ExxonMobil in Irving, Texas, and Exxon's Moscow headquarters, just as the first whales arrived in their summer feeding grounds - the area of Exxon's Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project - at northeast Sakhalin Island, in the Russian Far East. Pacific Environment and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which delivered the petitions, requested a response from Exxon within two weeks, a deadline that passed today.

The petition urges Exxon, Rosneft, and other oil companies operating in the area to suspend all summer and autumn oil and gas development activities near the critically endangered western gray whale's annual feeding habitat off the coast of Russia's Sakhalin Island and calls for the creation of the Sakhalin Marine Federal Wildlife Reserve.

There are only about 130 western gray whales remaining, including just 30 breeding females. These whales feed only in the summer and autumn, and their primary feeding area lies in and adjacent to Exxon's Sakhalin-1 project facilities and associated activities in the Piltun Bay area.

"The western gray whale population is at great risk of extinction," said Doug Norlen, Policy Director, Pacific Environment. "It is imperative that all oil companies operating near its feeding area acknowledge the effects of their operations on the whales, which have just arrived to feed for the summer, and immediately halt all damaging industrial activities until the whales have left."

The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP), composed of 11 prominent international scientists, met in April in Geneva with representatives from Shell and Sakhalin Energy, as well as WWF and Pacific Environment to discuss how oil and gas development is affecting the whales' main annual feeding area off the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia. The WGWAP reiterated their urgent plea for a moratorium on industrial activities carried out by oil and gas companies that are expected to disturb western gray whales in and near their primary summer/autumn feeding season (July through October).

Scientists on the panel call for the moratorium following a large decrease in the number of whales in their annual feeding area near the shore during a period of loud industrial activity in the summer of 2008, including a seismic survey. This is significant because if the whales are displaced from this primary annual feeding area, they may have less success surviving and reproducing.

"Noise from oil and gas development is displacing the whales from their main annual feeding area," said Leigh Henry, Program Officer, World Wildlife Fund. "Any disturbances or additional stresses on the western gray whale could push the already critically endangered population closer toward extinction."

As a result, Sakhalin-2 project sponsors, including Gazprom, Shell, and other companies heeded scientists' warnings and postponed the seismic surveying they had planned for 2009. However, Exxon and Rosneft have so far refused to amend their summer 2009 construction and extraction plans in and around Piltun Bay.

"Immediate action is needed," says Doug Norlen. "Over 50,000 people have joined scientists in calling on Exxon, Rosneft, and others to stop their potentially destructive activities at Sakhalin Island and every single one of these people will be watching to see if these companies do the right thing for the western gray whale."

For further information:
Doug Norlen, Policy Director, Pacific Environment
Tel 202 465 1650 dnorlen(at)pacificenvironment(dot)org

WWF is the world's leading conservation network, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit http://www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.

Pacific Environment protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies. See http://www.pacificenvironment.org .


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