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Pecten fumatus, the commercial scallop species used in the study

Blasts from seismic air guns used to search for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor increase the death rate in scallops and change their behavior, according to a study published Monday. The U.S. Atlantic scallop fishery raked in $546 million dollars in 2012, making it one of the most lucrative in the country.

Why it matters: The Trump Administration's plan to allow oil and gas exploration in Atlantic coastal areas has re-ignited a decades-old controversy about the impacts of tools like seismic airguns. This research means opposition may not just come from environmental groups and marine mammal advocates, but the shellfish industry as well.

How the guns work: The airguns are towed behind ships and fire a large bubble of air that sends seismic waves through the water and toward the ocean floor. It's possible to tell if there's oil beneath the ground by the way the seismic waves reflect back. The extremely loud blasts are fired several times a minute for numerous consecutive days.

What they did: Researchers at the University of Tasmania in Hobart fired seismic airguns at scallop beds in a way designed to emulate their real-world use. They tracked the physiology and mortality of the scallops immediately following the airgun use, and months afterward. The researchers noticed an immediate increase in shellfish mortality, which increased from 9.4% when exposed once to 14.8% when exposed four times. Long-term death rates also increased with the amount of exposure.

Past studies have also found a link between seismic exploration and scallop deaths, but this study shows it in a controlled experiment. Others have determined the loud blasts caused by the guns can damage the ears of marine mammals like whales. Another even found that use of the airguns harms zooplankton—the tiny animals that make up the base of many ocean food chains.

Go deeper

Kevin McCarthy's rude awakening

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is learning you can get torched when you try to make everyone happy, especially after an insurrection.

Why it matters: The House Republican leader had been hoping to use this year to build toward taking the majority in 2022, but his efforts to bridge intra-party divisiveness over the Capitol siege have him taking heat from every direction, eroding his stature both with the public and within his party.

The next big political war: redistricting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats are preparing a mix of tech and legal strategies to combat expected gerrymandering by Republicans, who are planning to go on legal offense themselves.

Why it matters: Democrats failed to regain a single state legislature on Election Day, while Republicans upped their control to 30 states' Houses and Senates. In the majority of states, legislatures draw new congressional district lines, which can boost a party's candidates for the next decade.

38 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Vaccinations, relief timing dominate Sweet 16 call

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a news conference in December with a group of bipartisan lawmakers. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Vaccine distribution, pandemic data and a cross-party comity dominated today's virtual meeting between White House officials and a bipartisan group of 16 senators, Senator Angus King told Axios.

Why it matters: Given Democrats' razor-thin majority in both chambers of Congress, President Biden will have to rely heavily on this group of centrist lawmakers — dubbed the "Sweet 16" — to pass any substantial legislation.