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What is BRAHSS?

Humpback breaching off Peregian beach

Humpback breaching off Peregian beach

BRAHSS stands for Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback Whales to Seismic Surveys.

This is a major project over four years aimed at understanding how humpback whales respond to the sounds of seismic surveys and to provide the information that will allow these surveys to be conducted efficiently with minimal impact on whales.

Seismic surveying is used by the oil and gas industry to locate oil and gas under the sea floor and in geosciences research of the rock structure under the sea. It involves the generation of high level pulses of sound that penetrate the rock layers below the sea floor to provide information about the underlying rock strata.

The study aims to provide information that will reduce the uncertainty in management and mitigation of potential effects of seismic surveys on whales, allowing surveys to be conducted efficiently with minimal impact on whales. The main objectives are to study the behavioural reactions of humpback whales to seismic air guns to determine if these have longer term biological effects, and also to determine whether ramp-up of air guns at the start of a survey is effective as a mitigation measure.

BRAHSS is a collaboration between the following Australian institutions: Universities of Queensland, Sydney, Newcastle, Curtin University of Technology, the Australian Marine Mammal Centre (Australian Antarctic Division which is in the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Community) and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

The study is one the largest and most comprehensive studies on the effects of noise on whales ever undertaken. This project aims to provide information that will reduce the uncertainty in evaluating impacts of seismic surveys on humpback whales. It will also assess the effectiveness of ramp-up as a mitigation measure, and the potential to improve design of ramp-up. The results will be in a form useful for designing management of seismic surveys and mitigation procedures.

The study aims to provide information that will reduce the uncertainty in management and mitigation of potential effects of seismic surveys on whales, allowing surveys to be conducted efficiently with minimal impact on whales. The main objectives are to study the behavioural reactions of humpback whales to seismic air guns to determine if these have longer term biological effects, and also to determine whether ramp-up of air guns at the start of a survey is effective as a mitigation measure.

The broad objectives are:

  • To determine the response of humpback whales to a typical commercial seismic survey in terms of the variables affecting the response, such as the received sound level, relative movements of seismic array and whales and distance between them, behavioral state and social category of the whales, and environmental variables.
  • To determine the response of humpback whales to soft start or ramp-up and its components, to assess the effectiveness of ramp-up as a mitigation measure in seismic surveys and the potential for improving the effectiveness.
  • To relate these responses to the range of normal behavior and the response of the whales to other stimuli, such as passing ships, using the substantial body of knowledge that exists from previous research for the populations studied. Knowledge of the function of the behavior, the population dynamics and the biology of the whales will allow us to infer and model effects on life functions.
About to tag a whale, note the spout!

About to tag a whale, note the spout!

Funding:
Funding is being provided by the by the Joint Industry Programme on E&P Sound and Marine Life (JIP) and by the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). This is part of the JIP broad investigation in to the potential interaction between the sounds that are generated by the offshore industry and the marine environment. The JIP is managed by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP). The contributing companies are BG group, BHP Billiton, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, ExxonMobil, IAGC, Santos, Statoil and Woodside. The International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) is also a contributor.

Experimental Program

There will be four experiments in September and October from 2010 to 2014.

  • 2010: East cost using a 20 cui air gun.
  • 2011: East coast using first four air guns in ramp-up.
  • 2012: Analysis and review year.
  • 2013: West coast: aspects of the east coast experiments.
  • 2014: East coast: fully operational commercial array with ramp-up.

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