Chelsea Roff: Why I’m glad gas prices are up — How our addiction to oil is killing dolphins

Dolphins are being killed in mass quantities in Peru, and this time the culprit isn’t the Japanese taste dolphin meat… it’s our collective hunger for oil.

Since the beginning of the summer, nearly 3000 dolphin carcasses have washed up on shore, and last week 615 were found on a single 135km coastline. With no external signs of trauma or evidence of disease, experts are saying that offshore oil exploration in the region is the most likely culprit.

Tree Hugger explains:

Yaipen believes that a controversial technique for detecting oil beneath the seabed, using sonar or acoustic sensing, is leading the death of marine life en masse.

“The oil companies use different frequencies of acoustic waves and the effects produced by these bubbles are not plainly visible, but they generate effects later in the animals. That can cause death by acoustic impact, not only in dolphins, but also in marine seals and whales.”

In 2003, scientists from the Zoological Society of London discovered that underwater sonar can lead to the formation of microscopic bubbles of nitrogen in the bloodstream and vital organs of aquatic mammals, afflicting the animals with a lethal condition commonly known as the Bends. Additionally, low-range acoustic sensors are suspected to cause disorientation and internal bleeding to exposed wildlife.

In simpler terms, our rampant hunt for oil is exploding the brains of orcas in oceans all over the world.

Sonar signals are horrifyingly loud. According to Slate, the ships can register as high as 215 decibels and persist at around 160 dbs hundreds of miles from the source. In case you don’t speak decibels, a telephone dial tone is about 80dbs and 140dbs can cause permanent hearing damage. If you have the the sharply-tuned acoustic system of a whale or dolphin, the sound put out by these ships is practically a bullet to the head.

The problem isn’t so much the signal itself though — it’s what happens when marine animals try to flee from the loud sound. Just like scuba divers, if a dolphin rises to the surface too quickly from deep underwater, nitrogen will accumulate in the blood. If the panicked animal isn’t able to rid its body of the gas quickly enough, the gas forms bubbles that can erupt and rip apart vital organs, tissues, and blood vessels.

Hearing about news like this is tragic and upsetting to say the least, but what bothers me more is the lack of coverage on mainstream media outlets. In fact, what I heard about on when I was watching the news this morning was panic about rising gas prices… not the dire consequences of our oil addiction.

To be honest, I’m glad gas prices are up. I hope they keep going up. We are never going to change our habits if there isn’t some incentive involved… and as it stands now, the price of oil is largely disconnected from the long term consequences of our consuming it. The structure of our political and economic system allows us to ignore the bigger picture — stay oblivious to the fact that every time we fill up our tank we kill another hundred animals, put another coastline community in jeopardy because of global warming.

My intent today is to become more aware of the consequences of my actions.