Oil exploration and production in the Great Australian Bight will increase the risk of vessel strikes for cetaceans, including the southern right whale. According to the 2011 Conservation Management Plan for the southern right whale, although reported vessel strikes are currently low:
“... it is likely that this risk will increase as shipping traffic grows and the impact on an individual, especially in south-east Australia, is likely to have a significant, potentially population-scale effect, if further evidence confirms this as a small demographically discrete population.”
Under the EPBC Act, all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are protected in Australian waters. As such, activities that clearly increase the risks of cetacean death and injury that can arise from vessel strike should not be taken lightly, particularly in a region important for whale calving. This threat also points to the need to thoroughly and and independently understand which cetacean species transit and utilise specific parts of the the region, including all oil exploration permit areas and shipping routes between those permit areas and ports.