The fate of the world's few remaining Western Grey Whales now rests on the outcome of appeals to Russian authorities and courts following the refusal of an oil consortium to consider alternatives to a proposal to lay an oil pipeline through a shallow lagoon crucial to the whales' food supplies.

Last month the Russian government ignored an outcry over project impacts on Piltun Lagoon to grant approval for the pipeline, part of the Sakhalin-1 project which includes oil giant Exxon and Russian, Japanese and Indian oil companies.

Only around 130 Western Gray Whales are left worldwide, including some 20 females able to reproduce. They gather in the seas around Sakhalin in Russia's far east for four months to feed and build up the fat to survive the rest of the year.

Piltun Lagoon produces organic matter crucial for benthos such as as sea stars, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and sea anemones which form the Grey Whale's main food source.

The Moscow Tagansky Court last week accepted an action from local Sakhalin NGOs including the Sakhalin Association of Indigenous Peoples and Sakhalin Environmental Watch, as well as the Rodnik Law Centre demanding revision of the state environmental expertise conclusion which ignored scientific advice that the pipeline route should be changed.

That report, commissioned by WWF-Russia, Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, was presented to Russia's minister of nature resources, Yury Trutnev, earlier this year after the consortium rejected an offer to negotiate a new route for the pipeline.

WWF-Russia has this month written to Minister Trutnev, asking him to stop the Exxon project.

"Exxon cannot be considered an environmentally responsible company if it constructs a pipeline contrary to the opinion of Russian and international conservation experts," said Alexey Knizhnikov, WWF-Russia oil and gas environmental policy coordinator.

WWF is currently negotiating with the government on the creation of a marine protected area in the Piltun lagoon. If the protected status is confirmed the oil pipeline construction should be forbidden in the lagoon.

Adapted from materials provided by World Wildlife Fund.