SAINT HELIER, Jersey, July 12 (UPI) -- A critically endangered western population of gray whales is being threatened by ongoing oil and gas exploration in the Russian Far East, conservationists say.
Delegates to the International Whaling Commission meeting on the British island of Jersey said companies using seismic guns to find oil and gas in the area around Sakhalin Island need to reduce the impact on one of the most threatened groups of whales on the planet, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The western population of gray whales is down to only about 130 remaining individuals, including an estimated 26 breeding females, and a small area on the Sakhalin coast is their only known feeding ground, they said.
"Appropriate monitoring and mitigation plans" should be implemented for oil and gas exploration in the area, the IWC's scientific committee said.
Surveys using seismic guns create sound at intensities that can cause whales to flee the area, and wildlife activists have reported seeing fewer whales in their feeding area following surveys.
Valentin Ilyashenko, leader of the Russian delegation to the IWC meeting, said some impact on the whales could not be avoided.
"Human activities do influence the western gray whale; our task is to minimize the impact from human activities," he told the BBC.
"But we can't stop [human] progress, and we can't stop using oil."