Groups go to court to stop US seismic research in Canadian waters

VANCOUVER – In the midst of a lawsuit launched by environmental groups, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has just granted permission for a controversial American research ship to conduct seismic blasting in a Canadian marine protected area. The Minister granted this permit at the close of business hours Friday night, despite an ongoing lawsuit by environmental groups challenging the legality of the permit on the basis that the ship will violate Canadian environmental laws.

Ecojustice, on behalf of Living Oceans Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, will argue the lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday in an attempt to stay the permit granted to the US vessel. The proposed seismic tests would threaten endangered whales in the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents – a Canadian marine protected area located approximately 250km off the coast of British Columbia. The lawsuit alleges that Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot grant clearance to a foreign vessel that will harass marine mammals in violation of Canadian law.

“We are shocked that the government would allow seismic testing in one of Canada’s few marine protected areas,” says CPAWS National Oceans Manager Sabine Jessen, “The reason marine protected areas exist is to keep harmful activities from occurring in special areas that protect the animals living there, including endangered species like blue whales.”

The research vessel R.V. Marcus Langseth would cause intense acoustic disturbance from a 36 air gun seismic array, which would blast at 180 decibels every 2 or 3 minutes. The seismic blasts would gather information about the structure of the local sub-seafloor and are slated to continue for one month. The Minister of Foreign Affairs granted the research vessel permission to enter Canadian waters at the close of business hours on Friday. The ship set sail for the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents from Astoria, Oregon at 10:30am (PST) Saturday and could begin seismic blasting as early as Monday.

“The seismic researchers’ own evidence states that they will be causing harassment of whales, and they were required to apply for a U.S. whale harassment permit,” says Living Oceans Society’s Oonagh O’Connor. “We are disappointed that the Canadian government has allowed harmful research in BC’s waters.”

“In Canada, is it illegal to disturb and harass whales and dolphins,” says Ecojustice Staff Lawyer Lara Tessaro. “We’re seeking to turn this ship around, to uphold Canadian environmental laws, and to prevent whale harassment in Canadian waters.”

The case will be heard at 9am PST/12pm EST on Tuesday, August 25th. Justice Michael Kelen will preside over the case from the Federal Court in Ottawa at 90 Sparks Street. Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro will provide arguments on location in Ottawa, with lawyers from Columbia and the Federal government appearing by video link from the Federal Court in Vancouver (701 West Georgia Street).

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For more information, please visit http://www.ecojustice.ca or contact:

Sabine Jessen, National Oceans Manager, CPAWS (604) 657-2813
Oonagh O’Connor, Living Oceans Society  (250) 230-6580
Lara Tessaro, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (514) 318-8566
Kori Brus, Communications Director, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 25

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