Endangered whales at risk as causeway works timed for peak breeding season

The state’s peak environment body has slammed a decision to time Victor Harbor causeway upgrade work during the peak of the whale breeding season.


MEDIA RELEASE
2 March 2021

Endangered whales at risk as causeway works timed for peak of breeding season 

The state’s peak environment body has slammed a decision to time Victor Harbor causeway upgrade work during the peak of the whale breeding season.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision that will drive endangered whales away from our shores,” said Conservation SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins.

“It’s a special gift that Southern Right Whales choose to spend the winter in Encounter Bay. We have an enormous responsibility to provide a safe haven while they are in our waters.

“The whale mothers arrive in our waters exhausted and fragile after travelling thousands of kilometres from the Southern Ocean.  They need to rest and feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, they will be forced to flee - putting themselves and their babies at risk.  

“Sound drives them away, particularly pile driving construction noise proposed for the new causeway.

“Pile driving for the causeway will be like the sound of a jack hammer in a maternity ward next door to a mother giving birth.  

“Whale mothers return to places where they feel safe and avoid places they have to flee from.  This short-sighted and reckless decision will continue to impact on whale behaviour for years to come,” he said.

The Government’s proposal to upgrade the Granite Island causeway will involve pile driving construction noise disturbance during May to November when whales arrive to give birth. Whales are incredibly sensitive to human-produced sound many kilometres away from the source.  It is highly likely they will avoid entering Encounter Bay and be forced away to give birth at other nurseries like the head of the Bight, depriving the Encounter Bay community of the special experience of watching whales and their calves within sight of shore.

“To time these causeway works for the middle of the most sensitive whale breeding season is deeply irresponsible.

“Studies from Victoria show that every whale that stays close to shore brings a $1 million boost to the local economy through whale watching tourism.  

“Four hundred thousand visitors come to the South Coast every winter to see the whales.  Why is the Government putting this incredibly important part of the visitor economy at risk?

“Even worse, the State Government is ignoring its own policy, which states it must ‘avoid piling activities during times when marine mammals are likely to be breeding, calving, feeding or resting in biologically important habitats.’

“Shifting these causeway works away from whale visiting season will ensure whale mothers and babies have a safe place to rest and recuperate, give birth, nurse their calves, socialise, court and mate – all within the view of the Encounter Bay community. 

“This is an extraordinary gift we must protect,” Mr Wilkins said.

RELEASE ENDS

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Contact Conservation SA on (08) 8223 5155, [email protected], or at our offices at the Joinery at 111 Franklin Street, Adelaide.

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