Beached humpback whale on the northern KZN coast.
DURBAN - Has loud underwater noise from the oil and gas exploration industry caused whale and dolphin deaths along the KwaZulu-Natal coast?

Senior Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife marine ecologist Dr Jennifer Olbers posed this question at the Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice last year.

In 2016, a Roving Reporter investigation established that seismic surveys, which use active sonar (sound navigation and ranging), had continued well into the whale migration period that year.

This sparked the wrath of leading marine scientists, who accused the petroleum industry of reneging on an agreement made through Operation Phakisa that seismic surveys would not be done between June and November. This is when whales migrate along the KZN coast to breed in Mozambican waters.

There was a decline in whale sightings when the seismic surveys were being conducted and an increase in the number of stranded whales, Olbers said. The jury is still out on whether seismic surveys were among the causes.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE