Continental Shelf Research
Harwood, J. and Wilson, B.
We review the available information on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals in the Atlantic Frontier area, and the literature on the potential effects of oil exploration and extraction on these species. Reliable estimates of seal abundance are only available for two species (grey and harbour seals). For grey seals and hooded seals there is also information from telemetry studies on their distribution at sea. Data on cetaceans comes from a variety of sources including whaling statistics, dedicated surveys, observers placed on vessels of opportunity, and from bottom-mounted hydrophone arrays. These indicate that the Atlantic Frontier region is of national, and possibly international, importance for a number of cetacean species. The most abundant small cetacean is likely to be the white-sided dolphin; however, smaller numbers of large whales, including endangered blue, right, fin and sei whales, and vulnerable humpback and sperm whales are also likely to be present in summer. There is growing evidence that a number of marine mammal species respond to the acoustic and physical disturbance associated with exploration for oil and gas resources, although the ecological impact of these responses is unclear. We describe how risk assessment frameworks, initially developed for evaluating the environmental impacts of hazardous chemicals, can be used to address this problem.
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