An international group of scientists said it has developed a set of guidelines to enable oil companies engaged in undersea explorations to reduce the impact of their operations on marine mammals, particularly when carrying out seismic surveys.

Scientists of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, told Efe that the guidelines were developed to protect the population of gray whales in Russia's Sakhalin region in the North Pacific, but that they can be applied to other areas and animals.

That region is the epicenter of Russia's major industrial project, Sakhalin II, for the extraction of oil and natural gas by the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, a consortium made up of Gazprom, Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

This is also an area of great importance for gray whales, a marine mammal that migrates from the Bering Sea in the North Pacific to northern Mexico where they calve their young, Carl Gustaf, director of the IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Program, told Efe.

"A small population exists in Sakhalin that is particularly vulnerable. When the project was announced we were concerned it would negatively impact this whale population," Gustaf said.

The group of scientists worry about the seismic surveys that companies carry out to locate deposits of crude and natural gas, and to determine the composition of the marine subsoil.

The scientists' chief fear is that the constant explosions of the seismic surveys will drive the gray whales away from Sakhalin forever. EFE