Alaska Native and environmental groups have sued to stop exploration by oil companies this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas frequented by whales, seals and other marine species.

The groups are challenging federal permits that allow Shell and BP to undertake seismic exploration using powerful acoustic devices that can harm marine animals.

“The federal government is rushing to approve a burst of new seismic activity without completely studying the effects on marine life,” said attorney Clayton Jernigan of Earthjustice. The acoustic signals could disrupt tens of thousands of animals as they feed, socialize and travel through the seas of northern Alaska, according to the lawsuit.

This is especially worrisome to Alaska Natives in the region who depend on the marine mammals for food and worry they will desert traditional hunting areas for quieter waters.

“Our culture revolves around subsistence, with numerous activities and festivals centered around whaling,” said Lily Tuzroyluke of the Native Village of Point Hope, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “When they’re shooting the seismic gun, we definitely see marine mammals scatter.”