Woodside numbers ‘too low’: research

Andrew Tillett, Broome Advertiser, March 21, 2013, 

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Environmentalists claim Woodside has drastically underestimated the number of whales that swim in the waters off James Price Point as they step up their campaign against the proposed gas hub.

A new report by the Kimberley Community Whale Research project says between 12,108 and 15,876 humpback whales passed within 8km of the James Price Point shoreline during the 2012 migration season, compared to 1000 that Woodside’s global consultant RPS estimated would do so.

The RPS report was submitted to the WA Environmental Protection Authority which approved the LNG precinct proposal for the Browse Basin last July.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is currently considering the application but Woodside’s project partner Shell is keen on processing LNG on a floating platform which is cheaper and has less impact on the environment.

Researchers for the Kimberley project recorded 2669 humpback whales, including 172 cow-calf pairs, while surveying the waters off James Price Point four hours a day for three months last year.

That figure excludes double-counting and was extrapolated to give the 12,000-15,000 range.

The survey was overseen by marine scientists and conducted on behalf of the Goolarabooloo traditional owners and Broome Community No Gas Campaign.

Project researcher Charlotte Buckton said the study also found the waters off James Price Point were much more important for whales than claimed, including being used for calving.

“Whales carry out a number of activities in the James Price Point region, including resting, milling, playing and slow swimming behaviours and often we observed newborn calves that were engaging in their vital first interactions with their mothers,” she said.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the report “reinforces the inadequacy of the environmental assessment already undertaken by the EPA and the WA Government”.

However, Woodside stood by its whale research, with a spokesman last week saying four years of scientific studies had found 95 per cent of migrating whales swam more than 8km off James Price Point on their way to and from Camden Sound, 350km north, which independent researchers had identified as the main calving area for humpbacks.

“Thousands of humpback whales migrate up and down the WA coastline each year,” he said.

The EPA said its “rigorous” environmental impact assessment of the project examined all key environmental factors, including whales, before making its recommendations to the State Government. RPS said it was confident it had assisted with “robust scientific surveys”.

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