Humpback Whales Threatened by Oil Rigs

February 4, 2014 Conservation Biology published the findings of Howard Rosenbaum and colleagues who discovered that humpback whales are being threatened by their proximity to oil and gas rigs off the coast of Africa.Researchers found that humpback whales migrating from their breeding grounds towards feeding grounds in the Antarctic are forced to navigate around oil rigs that causes them to ingest harmful toxins.

Scientists used satellite tags to track the migration of  15 humpback whales in the South Atlantic Ocean. Humpback whales were located mostly in Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, and Angola, the coastlines of which overlap with offshore hydrocarbon operations and major shipping lanes. They found that humpback whales spend about 40% of their time near oil rigs and gas platforms. While another 76% of their time is spent within 200 miles of the coasts whose countries have the rights to exploration and use of marine sources such as energy production.

A humpback whale feeding off the shore of Gabon, Africa, near an oil platform

According to Howard Rosenbaum “there are indications that oil production in these coastal regions has and will increase in the coming years.  So gaining a better understanding of the movements of whales and quantifying the degree of overlap with anthropogenic activities will help assess the potential risks to this population, and identify migration strategies that should be considered to better protect whales.”  Their results and the population-level data suggest that the  pollution levels in the whales’ migration path is pose a threat to the  humpback population.

The authors of the study point to human behavior as a key factor in effecting change for the Humpback population. According to Sara Maxwell, co-author of the study,“knowing not just where animals are going, but what kind of human activities and potential threats they are facing gives us insight into how we can effectively help them while still maintaining the services that we as humans rely on in the ocean,”. Programs are being created in attempt to save the humpback whales from further devastation.


Rosenbaum, H., Maxwell, S. et al.  (2014). Long-Range Movement of Humpback Whales and Their Overlap with Anthropogenic Activity in the South Atlantic Ocean. Conservation Biology,10.1111/cobi.12225, 1.

Jordan, R. (2014, February 12). Study Finds Proximity to Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Rigs Threaten Humpback Whales.EcoWatch. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from

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