Normally, spotting a mother whale and her calf is a cause for joy and excitement, but when Phillip Island locals spotted whales recently, they were worried.
Underwater drilling for the Port of Hastings Expansion Project was happening while a mother whale and her baby swam in the area. Underwater drilling poses significant risks to whales . The loud sounds can hurt their ears and interfere with their sonar navigation, potentially causing them to get lost or even beached.
Environmental Justice Australia has been using the law to support the Preserve Western Port Action Group in their attempts to defend these whales from harm. We drafted a letter to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, demanding action and answers.
Jeff Nottle, chairman and spokesperson for the Preserve Western Port Action Group, explained: Our members spotted a mother whale and her calf, believed to be Southern Right Whales, very close to the drilling site at Cowes. The expert view is that Southern Right whales are extremely sensitive to noise disturbance, especially when they are nursing a baby calf.
The EPBC Act clearly states that activities like underwater drilling, which are likely to harm whales, need to be referred to the Federal Environment Minister. In the past, activities like this have been referred to the Minister to consider the impacts, and his department has set conditions on the drilling operations, to protect whales. But in this case, no referral was made.
This underwater borehole drilling activity has been occurring at up to 110 locations in Western Port and has been going on for months already at a time when the whales have been spotted in the area.
The impacts of drilling on whales is just the tip of the iceberg for environmental impacts of the Port of Hastings Expansion Project. It is planned to handle up to nine million containers annually if it proceeds and opens in 2025. The impacts of dredging, increased shipping and potential oil spills on this Ramsar listed area are all of great concern to locals.
We’ll continue to support local residents as they attempt to have their concerns heard and taken seriously.