Cuvier’s beaked whales may have died from navy sonar

Cuvier's beaked whaleFrom British daily The Independent:

Navy sonar blamed for death of beaked whales found washed up in the Hebrides

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Monday, 7 April 2008

Anti-submarine sonar may have killed a group of whales found dead in the Hebrides in one of Britain’s most unusual strandings, scientists believe.

Five Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species rarely seen in British waters, were discovered on beaches in the Western Isles on succeeding days in February. Another animal from a related species was discovered at the same time.

Experts consider such a multiple stranding to be highly abnormal. They calculate, from the state of the carcasses inspected that the whales died in the same incident out in the Atlantic to the south and west of Britain, and then drifted towards the Scottish coast over two or three weeks.

The main suspect in the case is sonar, as it is known that beaked whales are highly sensitive to the powerful sound waves used by all the world’s navies to locate underwater objects such as submarines.

Groups of beaked whales have been killed, with sonar suspected as the direct cause, several times in recent years; well-documented incidents include anti-submarine exercises in Greece in 1996, the Bahamas in 2000 and the Canary Islands in 2002. In 2003, an American judge banned the US Navy from testing a new sonar after a court case brought by environmentalists to protect marine life.

See also here.

In February 2002, a dead female Cuvier’s beaked whale beached at Las Galletas, Tenerife, according to Wochenspiegel weekly.

A new study of elusive Cuvier’s beaked whales shows they can dive to nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters): here.

Dolphin charities blame Navy for Cornish beachings: here.

Whales in Australia: here.

16 thoughts on “Cuvier’s beaked whales may have died from navy sonar

  1. Wednesday, June 11, 2008 – Page updated at 01:15 PM

    Animal group: Naval sonar may have killed dolphins


    Associated Press Writer
    LONDON —

    More than two dozen dolphins may have been killed after becoming disoriented by British navy sonar exercises, a marine animal protection group said Wednesday.

    The Royal Navy denied that a survey vessel using side-scan sonar was to blame in the stranding of 32 dolphins in shallow waters.

    “It is considered extremely unlikely that this operation could have affected the mammals in any way,” the navy said in a statement. The ship was mapping the seabed about 14 miles off the southwest coast of England.

    But Marine Connection, a whale and dolphin protection charity, insisted the underwater noise could have disoriented the animals and pushed them into dangerous waters.

    “Something has definitely spooked these animals,” said Liz Sandeman, its director of operations.

    The common dolphins – which usually shy away from the coast in favor of deeper waters – were found beached in and around a creek off the Percuil River, near Falmouth, on Monday. Some were rescued, but 26 dolphins suffered painful, protracted deaths.

    Campaigners say post-mortem examinations showed that the animals appeared healthy and their stomachs were empty, indicating they were scared into heading up the river.

    “They weren’t coming up the river system to fish, which leads us to suspect that they were frightened up the river system,” said Sarah Dolman, a science officer with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

    Dolman said there were no documented cases linking a mass stranding to side-scan sonar – which are directed downward toward the ocean floor, unlike mid-frequency active sonar, which are directed outward into the water.

    However, “we’re learning more all the time and it’s still a possibility,” she said.

    Rodney Coates, an expert on underwater acoustics, said the sonar could well have hurt the dolphins, who use similar frequencies to locate their prey. Coates said that if the dolphins’ hearing was affected, they were doomed.

    “Sound is to the dolphin what sight is to you,” Coates said. “A deaf dolphin will be a dead dolphin, it’s only a question of time.”


    Sonar can also affect whales, and court-imposed restrictions bar the U.S. Navy from using active sonar within 2,000 yards of the mammals.

    Commanders argue the restrictions are hampering sonar training and say they could eventually degrade its military readiness. The matter could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    A British military spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military policy, said he could not offer immediate comment on any restrictions placed on the use of naval sonar in Britain.

    “We as the Royal Navy take our responsibilities toward the environment seriously, and the use of sonar is controlled accordingly,” he said.


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