New Florida AG “examining” 10-state lawsuit filed to block underwater blasting that harms whales, dolphins

By: - March 1, 2019 2:41 pm
right whales

Right whales. NOAA photo

When 10 states along the Atlantic seaboard recently joined a federal lawsuit to stop offshore drilling companies from doing loud underwater blasting that hurts and kills dolphins, whales, and other sea life, Florida was notably absent.

Now, Florida’s new Attorney General Ashley Moody is taking a look at the lawsuit “and how it relates to Florida,” her spokeswoman says.

“We are also meeting with relevant state agencies to assess the effects on our state,” says Kylie Mason, Moody’s spokeswoman.

The state Attorneys General joined with environmental groups to try to block the Trump administration’s decision to allow “incidental harm” to tens of thousands of marine creatures. The Trump administration already issued the permits to allow five corporations to harm sea life.

The companies plan to conduct loud underwater blasts – “seismic testing” – to search for oil and gas from New Jersey to Florida. The blasts are as loud as a jet engine and happen every 10 seconds for months at a time. Underwater, they can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, the nonprofit Oceana reports –  the distance of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. The blasts are particularly harmful to creatures which use sonar to navigate, feed, and find mates.

One of the rarest creatures on Earth, the endangered North American right whale, gives birth off Cape Canaveral. Only about 400 of the whales exist, with only about 100 breeding females. The Florida coast is their only known breeding ground.

Erin Hardy, of Oceana, says environmental advocates met with the staffers for Gov. Ron DeSantis last month and “specifically asked the governor to urge the Attorney General to join the suit.”

“We absolutely feel that the state of Florida should join the suit, along with the other 10 states in taking a stand against this potentially dangerous offshore oil exploration that could lead to oil rigs off our Atlantic coast,” Hardy said.

Trump’s National Marine Fisheries Service has authorized one company to harm more than 50,000 dolphins and another company to harm 20,000 more, the groups say. The federal government estimates that the blasting will cause more than 373,000 instances of harm to marine mammals, according to a press release from Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. Frosh is among the 10 state attorneys general along the Atlantic Coast which sued to stop the blasting.

“These deafening blasts are cruel and dangerous to whales, dolphins, and other marine life,” said Tania Galloni, Florida managing attorney for the nonprofit law firm, Earthjustice. “They are also setting the stage for a dramatic expansion of offshore drilling that will pose even greater risk to marine life and coastal communities.”

The blasts can indicate the presence of oil, but the companies still have to put in exploratory rigs, like the BP Deepwater Horizon that blew up and devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The groups filed for an injunction Feb. 20 in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina. It argues that the Trump administration’s approval violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Attorneys General and the groups argue in their legal filing “that blasting ships would ‘concentrate their fire’ on the world’s densest population of acoustically sensitive beaked whales off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.”

Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation; the Southern Environmental Law Center is representing the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and One Hundred Miles. Other groups suing include Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, and Defenders of Wildlife. Sixteen South Carolina coastal communities and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce are also suing. More on that legal action here.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.