Whale beaching as a result of seismic testing.
VANCOUVER -- Environmentalists are fuming after learning the federal government has given permission to a U.S. research ship to begin controversial seismic testing in Canadian waters, despite an ongoing court challenge.
Ecojustice, an environmental law group representing groups opposed to the research, says the vessel Marcus Langseth could be off Vancouver Island as early as Monday after the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a permit.
"The issue at stake here is the fact that by issuing this clearance permit for the vessel, that they are valuing American interests above that of the Canadian environment and Canadian species at risk," said spokesman Kori Brus.
"They've given no reason; they've simply done it."
An Ecojustice lawyer went to the Federal Court of Canada on Friday seeking an injunction to prevent the ship from entering Canadian waters as part of a larger suit against such testing.
The case had been adjourned until Tuesday.
"It's a frustrating development, especially given they issued this permit basically at the close of business hours on Friday," said Brus.
A foreign affairs spokesman on Sunday would not confirm the ship has been given clearance to begin its test program. He refused to comment, saying the issue was before the courts.
Researchers from Columbia University in New York want to conduct seismic tests using high-decibel air blasts into the water in a region that includes the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents marine protected area.
The month-long program aims to map the sub-surface of the sea floor where earthquake-causing tectonic plates diverge.
But environmentalists say the acoustic blasts will disrupt marine life, especially threatened and endangered species of whales that feed in the area, about 250 kilometres west of Vancouver Island.
Brus said the Marcus Langseth sailed from Astoria, on the northern Oregon coast, on Saturday.
He said researchers claim they must be on location now because they have a tight weather window to complete their program.
Ecojustice says the ship's 36-gun towed seismic array would send 180-decibel blasts -- as loud as an army artillery piece going off -- into the water every two to three minutes.
"The seismic researchers' own evidence states that they will be causing harassment of whales, and they were required to apply for a U.S. whale harassment permit" the Living Oceans Society's Oonagh O'Connor, said in a news release.
"We are disappointed that the Canadian government has allowed harmful research in B.C.'s waters."
The group's lawsuit contends the government is violating Canadian law by allowing research that disturbs and harasses whales and dolphins.
Despite the government's apparent decision, Brus said the court case will proceed Tuesday.
"The testing's scope encompasses a full calendar month," he said.
"So even though this has allowed them to get a jump start on us, we're still relying on legal channels, particularly on Tuesday -- which is just one single day after they begin -- to hopefully get a court decision that will ... put an end to the seismic testing."