Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 18:18 UK

Gray whales granted rare reprieve

Gray whales, AP
Suspending seismic work may help the whales recover

Conservation campaigners are hailing a victory for the critically endangered western gray whale.

The groups have won agreement from some oil and gas companies in Russian waters to end seismic work, giving the whales a chance to breed undisturbed.

The cessation comes in response to research showing how oil exploration can alter the behaviour of gray whales.

However, a number of firms have refused to stop exploration work planned for the breeding season.

Feeding season

WWF and Pacific Environment conservation groups praised the Sakhalin Energy consortium for its decision to abandon underwater seismic work scheduled to take place off Sakhalin Island in 2009.

"The results seen today demonstrate that collaborative science based initiatives like this panel process can succeed - even on issues as complex as oil and gas development," said Aleksey Knizhnikov from WWF-Russia in a statement.

Sakhalin Energy's decision came following the presentation of research revealing how seismic work disrupts the lifecycle of the gray whale.

The whales are known to only feed in summer and their main feeding area is in the Piltun Bay which lies at the north eastern part of Sakhalin shelf.

Research reveals that the noise from oil and gas exploration has driven the whales into deeper waters making it hard for their calves to feed and thrive.

The western gray whale is known to be one of the world's most endangered creatures. Only 35 of the 130 animals remaining are thought to be breeding females.

The whale is listed as "critically endangered" by Russia and is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

The suspension of seismic work by Sakhalin Energy, which is backed by Shell and Gasprom, might mean the whales can move in-shore, feed and breed.

However, campaigners pointed out that other oil and gas firms working in the region, including BP, Exxon and Rosneft, were still planning to carry out seismic work in 2009.

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