The Animals Saved by Shell’s Decision to End Offshore Drilling in the U.S. Arctic

Warning: polar bear cubs ahead.

Yes, that's definitely a smile. Via flickr user jomilo75

When Royal Dutch Shell announced this morning that it would abruptly end oil and gas exploration in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, plenty of people were ready to celebrate.

"This is a victory for everyone who has stood up for the Arctic," Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said. "Whether they took to kayaks or canoes, rappelled from bridges, or spread the news in their own communities, millions of people around the world have taken action against Arctic drilling. Today they have made history."

But let’s remember the real immediate winners in all of this: The good animals of the U.S. Arctic.

A final report delivered by Shell to National Marine Fisheries Service in February 2015 revealed that the company’s exploratory activities would “harass” roughly 2,500 bowhead whales (13.2 percent of the world’s population), 2,500 gray whales (13.5 percent), and nearly 50,500 ringed seals (16.8 percent), among other animals.

The harassment would take the form of continuous and pulsed sounds, loud enough to damage the animals’ hearing, Shell told the U.S. government. According to animal specialists, that kind of damage can be fatal. “A deaf whale is a dead whale,” a Greenpeace researcher told the Guardianearlier this year.

That hypothetical toll is not counting the animals that could have been trapped and possibly killed in the kind of industrial accidents that often follow oil-drilling projects. Spilled oil can coat the feathers of birds, leaving them unable to fly. It can seep into the fur of polar bears, so that they’re unable to regulate their own body temperature—or avoid hypothermia. It can impede seals’ abilities to swim (and escape predators). And it can pollute the feeding grounds of walruses.

Now, Shell has abandoned its $7 billion drilling project “for the foreseeable future,” in part because of “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska,” as the company wrote in a statement.

So here, to celebrate, are some nice snaps of some of the denizens of the U.S. Arctic. We suspect they’re reveling in the prospect of a “foreseeable future” that is offshore drilling-free:



via wikimedia commons user Merrill Gosho, NOAA


via flickr user Day Donaldson


via flickr user Brian Gratwicke


via flickr user Martin Cathrae



via wikimedia commons user Kingfisher


via flickr user jomilo75


via flickr user jomilo75


via Liz Labunski, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Polar Bears

via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


King Eider

via wikimedia commons user Olaf Oliviero Riemer

Kittlitz’s Murrelet

via Alyson McNinght, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Ivory Gull

via flickr user jomilo75