Since February 20th, three whales have beached in Greek Island, Corfu, which environmental groups are linking to oil and gas testing in the waters.

Two Cuvier’s beaked whales were found at Arillas and Agios Gordios beach, and a third was found ashore on Agios Gordios beach the following day.

“It took dozens of volunteers over five hours using rudimentary ropes to hoist the whales back in the sea,” said local vet Nastazia Koronaki, who helped with the rescue efforts.

Beached whales are nothing new to Greece, but three healthy whales within two days is highly unusual, said Koronaki.

Environmental groups are speculating that it’s connected to the SW Cook, a ship that has been conducting seismic testing in the Ionian Sea off the Corfu coast. The vessel is commissioned by an oil company, Hellenic Petroleum. The region around Corfu includes the Hellenic Trench and the Ionian Sea archipelago, which are critical marine mammal areas. The Ionian Sea is deep and tectonically active, which makes oil and gas exploration in this area extremely risky.

The company is conducting seismic testing, an oil and gas experiment consisting of blasting the seafloor with airguns to map the fossil fuels located below. The airgun blasts can reach more than 250 decibels. To put it into perspective, sounds above 150 decibels have the potential to cause life-threatening issues, and sounds between 170-200 can cause lethal issues or even burst lungs. Sounds above 240 decibels can literally explode heads.

As for how these convert underwater, sound travels 4.3 times faster in water than it does in the same temperature air. These loud sounds likely cause underwater creatures to disorient, lose hearing, and experience confusion.

According to a US non-profit, National Resources Defense Council, to marine animals, these 250-decibel blasts are like “a bomb repeatedly going off in their home every 10 seconds – a home they can’t flee.”

The blasts are linked to hearing impairments, difficulties with feeding, and interference with communication, something essential for life between marine animals. Beaked whales are deep divers, and studies have linked seismic testing and decompression sickness.

Although we may not be able to see the effects on other animals since they are not beaching like the whales, it doesn’t mean the harm isn’t being done. Animals exposed to the sound can die and sink to the bottom of the sea.

Organizations and non-profits have been writing to the Greek prime minister to call for the halt of seismic testing until the cause of the whale beaching is established, which they are sure is from the destructive testing. They have reportedly paused the surveys after the beachings, and the SW Cook has left Greece.

This brings attention to the bigger oil and gas exploration issue in the Ionian Sea. Environmental activists and workers in the tourism industry joined together in a Protest in Corfu.

“People are really scared because we live from tourism, and this could destroy the local economy,” said Giannis Gasteratos, a protester.

Locals say that environmental oversight in Greece has plummeted in recent years, although the environment is more at risk than it has ever been. Oil and gas need to remain in the seafloor, and we need to stop exploiting our fragile oceans. Fossil fuels are not sustainable, and we need to start investing in renewable energy before it’s too late.

Sign this petition to stop seismic testing!

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