Promotion of Electric Cars to save Marine Mammals

Katherine Guay: Natural Resource Conservation, Patricia Ledesma: Animal Science, Akeem Smith: Building Construction and Technology

As the United States have developed and technology has grown, our planet has become caught in the crossfire, making it necessary to take it upon ourselves to protect different species from extinction. Programs funded by the federal government have sprung up in the hopes of mitigating these losses. The Marine Mammal Act cost each American taxpayers a penny to fund 3.4 million dollars in 2017 (Safina, 2018) and through this act, they have prevented the death of millions of marine mammals from oil drilling, mining, seismic blasting and fishing bycatch (Safina, 2018). Most of these problems have a straightforward and direct negative impact on marine life. However, many people are unaware of the damage that seismic surveys have on marine life.

Seismic surveys are a way in which oil reserves are located using air guns in the deep sea by utilizing arrays of airguns to produce powerful sound waves. Pressurized air bubbles create the source of the sound, with up to 20 guns fired at the same time and echoed down a line of sensors (Thomas, 2015). These sound waves reflect off of the ocean floor and offer a complete picture of the immediate underwater area. It is a very accurate means of locating oil and is being widely used for this reason. The very first seismic survey meant to locate oil was conducted in 1928 and by 1983 it was used in 70% of all exploration endeavors around the world  (Wells, 2018). In fact, it is the most widely used technology to this day in locating aquatic oil reserves due to its accuracy and consistent ability to pinpoint a location to drill.

As the population of the United States rises, oils usage has increased leading to a higher demand for oil exploration. With more exploration, seismic surveys have increasingly encroached onto habitual habitats of marine mammals, and marine life has become negatively affected by this fact. Marine mammals’ reaction to seismic surveys has overall been that of avoidance and fear (Heide-Jørgensen et al., 2013). Being that this device works through sound waves it penetrates for miles from the origin point making it impossible to completely avoid.

Seismic surveys physically can lead to hearing loss and damages (Gedamke, Gales & Frydman 2011). When surveying is prolonged for months at a time, the Temporary threshold shift onset (TTS), defined as temporary hearing loss, has potential to cause permanent damage to the whales hearing which the mammals cannot recover from (Gedamke, Gales & Frydman, 2011). Although the full understanding of impacts on marine life from seismic surveys is still an ongoing, sources agree that the sound waves can harm acoustically sensitive marine life (Donovan, Harris, & Milazzo, 2017). Seismic surveys display the ability to alter the behavior of these animals from what they habitually display (Kastelein et al., 2017). The airguns produce broadband high-amplitude impulsive sounds, which may cause temporary or permanent threshold shifts. This has an affect on communication and interferes greatly with pod dynamics (Kyhn et al., 2019).

As avoidance tactics are administered by the pods to avoid noise pollution of seismic surveys, there have been recorded changes in habitual migration patterns (Castellote, 2012).The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale migrate along the coast of the United States to travel from Canada, to the warm southern waters of Florida, Georgia and Carolina to their feeding ground (Dloughy, 2018). This pathway is followed by every pod year after year. It is a habitual migration pattern which allows them to move between their mating ground and follow the changing temperatures of the water. Being diverted from this path is detrimental to the timing of their migration and can lead to being caught in waters which are not habitable to their species. The North Atlantic Right Whale is at risk of extinction, and the use of seismic surveys could aid in its pathway to extinction (Dloughy, 2018).  The whale’s protection and preservation should be a high priority as its population has been declining rapidly. In 2018, the population was fewer than 500 whales remaining, where scientists predict that the use of seismic surveys alone could lead to the whale’s extinction (Dloughy, 2018).

Avoidance has also been recorded in Eastern Grey Whales. About 10% of Eastern Gray Whales will stop feeding and move away from an active seismic ship when exposed to sound levels that exceeds a certain level of pressure (Kastelein et al., 2017). Moreover, five behavioral variables are significantly correlated with airgun sound energy and some other seismic survey variables. Those five include leg speed, dive time, distance from shore, blow interval and reorientation rate (Kastelein et al., 2017). This shows that seismic surveys are altering the natural behavior of gray whales.

Noise pollution created from seismic surveys disrupt migration, encouraging mammals to go off course or turn around entirely which can lead to endangerment of species from environmental shifts. When conducting seismic surveys off Northern Baffin Island in 2008, narwhals migrating that year were found to have turned back toward their summer location in the late fall and as a result 1000 narwhals were discovered trapped in ice off the coast (Heide-Jørgensen et al., 2013). Humpback whales also need to migrate south to thrive and these surveys have a significant effect on their ability to do so.

Testing shows behavioral responses of humpback whales in which they were tracked moving south and a boat emitting seismic noise of varying levels was placed in their path. Results being the 140 treatment of high seismic noise caused the groups to deviate more from the south and responded to the ramp-up treatment by decreasing their speed of southwards movement (Dunlop et al., 2016). Meaning that when a sudden loud noise was introduced, they diverted their course and when a noise steadily built in front of them, they stopped their forward movement. Groups increased their distance from the source vessel most dramatically during ramp up, where noise steadily increased, and during the 140 treatment, which was the highest level of sound waves than from baseline emissions. Groups increased their distance from the vessel immediately in their path by a further 495m and 563m compared to baseline groups which deviated 76m from the source (Dunlop et al., 2016). This avoidance delays their migration south with each degree of deviation corresponding to a different time of arrival. Prolonged migration can hurt pods as they are seasonal migrators and require certain environmental temperatures to thrive.  

This shows that seismic surveys can completely change the migration, mating opportunities, and communication ability between pods which undermines social aspects of their society (Kastelein et al., 2017).  In response to these discoveries we concluded that seismic surveys have a negative impact on the wellbeing of marine mammals.

Seismic survey usage will only ever decrease when the need for oil decreases. The market for oil will be ever growing if we maintain oil as our main energy source. As it is a non-renewable source which causes a multitude of environmental damages, we will not be able to rely on it indefinitely. Once a seismic survey is conducted to locate oil in the ocean, the location will be drilled until the oil is completely depleted. This process will repeat itself as another location is utilized, expanding the negative impacts to more environments. In order to address the issues created from seismic surveys, we propose to lessen the need for oil, specifically petroleum.

Annually, the United States consumes a large amount of petroleum. Petroleum is mainly used in gasoline or diesel fuel to aid in transportation. Last year in 2018, the United States consumed a total estimate of about 20.5 million barrels of petroleum per day (“How much oil is consumed”, 2019). This high use and demand of oil is the reason why seismic surveying is being used, the greater the need for petroleum and diesel causes the greater need for more offshore oil rigs. Cars and transportation consume the largest proportion of that petroleum use in the United States. In 2017, statistics show that transportation uses 71% of petroleum, industrial use comes second at 24%, residential 3%, commercial use at 2% and electric at 1% (“American Fuels”, 2018). Being that petroleum is one of the main uses for oil drilled, a drastic reduction in oil exploration would follow a change in how we power our cars. For this reason, electric cars are a solution to decreasing oil exploration.

Many people may ask why we haven’t already switched to renewable energy sources and continue to search for oil deposits in the ocean. The answer is that as of now, electric cars are not seen as economically friendly to Americans. Most electric cars out today have been advertised best by high end companies which are targeting affluent consumers (Peters, 2016). People are reluctant to purchase a car which is significantly more expensive than the gas fueled alternative (Peters, 2016).

Electric cars offer savings in the long run, but consumers are put off by the initial price to own an electric car. To show the benefits of electric cars compared to regular gasoline we will compare a 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric and a 2018 Honda Accord. Although the Honda Accord has a total mile range of 459, the Hyundai Ioniq has many more benefits. You will save a total of $3,750 more in fuel costs over a five-year period compared to the Honda Accord and similar gasoline vehicles (Department of Energy, 2019). Annual fuel cost for the Hyundai Ioniq electric is only $500 which is just 40% of the annual cost of a Honda Accord. To break it down further it cost $0.81 for the electric car to drive 25 miles while the gasoline vehicle would cost $2.11 (Department of Energy, 2019). Hyundai Ioniq Electric will cost about $6,000 more than the Honda Accord. People are immediately reluctant to purchase an electric car due to the initial price they see (Peters, 2016) but this clearly shows that overall a consumer would save a significant amount by converting to an electric vehicle even though a price may be presented as daunting. Getting past the initial cost is necessary to incentivise consumers which is why it would be logical to implement government subsidies to help this industry gain traction to be seen as a viable alternative.

One way that can lower the high cost of electric cars would be for the government to subsidize the purchase of electric cars. A subsidy is an economic benefit or financial aid which is provided by the government in this case, going towards the purchase of electric cars. Through the implementation of a collection of carefully placed incentives costs for this change could be mitigated. With government incentives placed on electric vehicles various cuts to the initial price of purchasing an electric car could alter targeted consumers from affluent individuals only to the average American.

Furthermore, rewards for owning an electric car, such as exemption from tolls or ferries, various tax breaks due to the environmental steps this individual has taken in purchasing an electric car and finally penalties for the continual use of gas would offer financial incentives to the public. Increasing gas prices could help pay for these tax breaks in the ownership of an electric car or they could go toward the creation of more charging stations. Using green energy like electric cars is a safer alternative which can help reduce the impacts on the local marine life. Now while this may seem merely conceptual, it is already being implemented in other countries.

The United Kingdom has already been giving subsidies toward electric cars. When a citizen selects an eligible car, depending on the grant per year up to £5,000 or roughly $6,590 goes toward the listing price of the car (Gibson, Shale-Hester.) More incentives for the general public to shift toward electric cars would be not only the reduction of oil exploration, but reduction of carbon emissions and pollution.

A multitude of countries are ahead of America in the electric car industry and they show that it can be done. Norway is a prime example of a country who is already successfully heading toward the full use of electric or hybrid cars. It is possible to convert to electric in a fast and timely manner Norway has proven. Within the last year, sales of electric vehicles have skyrocketed up by 40% (Lambert, 2019). In order to achieve this, Norway made a lot of changes to their legislature to create incentives for perspective buyers so that an electric car, despite the new technology driving up the price, was at a competitive price in comparison to other cars. For example, electric cars are exempt from acquisition taxes meaning that any car imported would not be taxed extra for its importation (Gibson, 2017). This allows dealers to sell the cars for a lower price as they do not need to compensate for the money which is needed to acquire the car from a foreign dealership. Other incentives include the reduction of emissions and benefits to those who purchase and use an electric vehicle. These benefits include exemptions from sales, import and road taxes, free parking, tolls, and ferry charges (Chappell, 2019.) This success in Norway by using cost saving incentives to convert can be adapted in the United States, where it has proven to work and is a feasible option if we are willing to expand the market. The exemptions and immunities to charges makes up for the expensive initial price of the car and in the long run when cities or countries comply can indeed be a cheaper option compared to the constant need to purchase gas or diesel. Norway even has a goal of banning sales of all gasoline and diesel cars by the year 2025 (Coren, 2018.)  This ban can drastically cut down on the need for oil and its continuing exploration.

Some people may believe that this is a proposition for a very large change in our country, but in truth we have been heading in this direction for many years and adjustments have been made accordingly. Electric cars have been on the rise for decades and within the last 10 years specifically, huge strides have been made in favor of this new technology. In 2011 17,425 plug in electric cars were sold in the United States. In 2017 199,826 plug in electric cars were sold in America (Pyper, 2019). This is an exponential change and the companies producing these cars have taken notice. Massachusetts alone sold 8,990 electric cars in 2018 which was a 94% increase from 2017. While 8,990 might not seem like a substantial number, the fact that this practically doubled from the 4,632 electric cars purchased in 2017 shows that the market is undoubtedly on the rise and could change in favor of electric cars in a few short years. Market shares for electric vehicles per state have increased right along with the preferences of the customers in regard to this market. Massachusetts held 1.35% market shares for electric vehicles in 2017, but in 2018 increased to hold 2.53% which is an 87% increase (EVAdoption, 2019). This shows us that with customer incentives the government bodies within each state along with big business will meet the needs of customers to open up this market further. With an increase of cars on the road, more electric charging stations will pop up as a result. With more companies within the electric car game, they will create more and more models outside of luxury vehicles to meet the desires of their clientele. The numbers here indicate that perceived problems with electric cars today are already on the mend. Introduction of something new always requires a period of adjustment as it either flourish’s of flops. This product is flourishing and does not show signs of stopping, all that’s needed is for people to come together and continue to invest in this new beginning.

While you may not think of marine mammals when you contemplate your car purchases it is important to consider the environmental ramification of your decision. There are small changes that could be made to lead to a much bigger change as a society. Switching to an electric car is one of those changes which holds a lot of merit. With less of a reliance on this form of energy and a conversion towards renewable sources the need for exploration would decrease and with that less seismic surveys would be conducted. Less surveys means less harm will come to marine mammals leaving all parties involved in a better place than we currently stand. Renewable energy is the future and investing in it sooner rather than later can only help corporations to expand their inventions.

 

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2 Comments

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  2. This is some solid and great information.

    “Electric cars have been on the rise for decades and within the last 10 years specifically, huge strides have been made in favor of this new technology. In 2011 17,425 plug in electric cars were sold in the United States. In 2017 199,826 plug in electric cars were sold in America (Pyper, 2019).”

    These numbers are promising and we look forward to a greener future, with less CO2 pollution by burning fossil fuels.

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