USGS skewed estero seal report


Marshall resident Corey Goodman has uncovered yet one more instance of the misrepresentation of science related to government efforts to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company—this time involving a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report.

A USGS review of National Park Service photographs of harbor seals in Drakes Estero by Brent Stewart, a seal behavior specialist and senior research scientist at Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, showed no evidence of seal disturbance by oyster boats. Yet his report—commissioned by the park service for use in the Environmental Impact Statement on the oyster farm—was skewed in the final USGS report submitted to the park service.

That report concludes that “boat traffic at nearby sandbars… could be directly connected, or at least associated with a flushing level of disturbance” in some seals, citing two sets of photographs from May 15 and June 11, 2008. But Dr. Stewart’s own reports from those days state that although there was “very poor camera focus” there was no evidence of disturbance to seals. On the latter date he noted a “brief movement of seals towards [the water’s] edge several minutes before [an oyster boat arrived]” but did not see any seals entering the water or any “obvious disturbance.”

The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the farm states that the USGS report showed “two flushing disturbance events were attributed to boat traffic at nearby sandbars…” and called the effect of mariculture activities on resident seals “long-term moderate adverse.”

Beginning in 2007 Dr. Goodman has pointed out numerous cases of misrepresentation in scientific studies and literature generated at Point Reyes National Seashore, all of which were used against the oyster farm in its plea to remain in operation. Reports by the National Academy of Sciences and Marine Mammal Commission have largely upheld Dr. Goodman’s findings.