British Royal Navy killed whales, report published at last

This video says about itself:

Long-finned Pilot Whale Species Identification

From New Scientist:

Pilot whales cuddle in the abyss

26 June 2013

THE abyss is a scary place. So perhaps it is no surprise that long-finned pilot whales like to stick close together when they plunge into the murky depths. New observations show that they often stay within metres of each other as they dive, and even stroke each other with their flippers.

Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are social animals that live in large pods. They were known to keep together at the surface, but their behaviour underwater was largely unknown.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Royal Navy bomb explosions caused mass whale deaths, report concludes

Noise from underwater bombs caused 19 pilot whales to beach and die off the coast of Scotland in 2011, say government scientists

Rob Edwards

Wednesday 24 June 2015 14.09 BST

Four large bombs exploded underwater by the Royal Navy were to blame for a mass stranding which killed 19 pilot whales on the north coast of Scotland in 2011, government scientists have concluded.

A long-delayed report released on Wednesday by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs says that the noise from the explosions could have damaged the hearing and navigational abilities of the whales, causing them to beach and die.

On 22 July 2011, 70 long-finned pilot whales swam into the Kyle of Durness, a shallow tidal inlet east of Cape Wrath, Europe’s largest live bombing range. Despite attempts to herd them back out to sea, 39 were left stranded by the tide.

Concerted efforts by expert teams and local people managed to refloat 20, but 19 ended up dead. It was one of the largest mass strandings in recent years, and it prompted a government-funded investigation by 12 scientists from laboratories across the UK.

Their report reveals that three 1,000-pound bombs were detonated in the sea nearby by the Royal Navy’s Northern Diving Group in the 24 hours before the whales were stranded. A fourth 250-pound bomb was exploded after stranding began.

The bombs were left over from military exercises in which planes target Garvie Island, a small rocky outcrop 4.5km from the Kyle of Durness. Some bombs miss the island, fail to detonate and sink to the seabed, where they have to be located and disposed of for safety reasons.

“The magnitude, frequency and proximity of the multiple detonations in the day prior to the stranding, and the single high-order detonation shortly after the beginning of the mass stranding, were plausible sources of significant disturbance to any neighbouring marine mammals,” the report says.

The three initial explosions could have had a “significant detrimental effect on the hearing and therefore navigational competence of any cetaceans in proximity,” it adds. The fourth bomb “might have served to drive the animals further inland”.

Loud noises can damage the hair cells in the ears of whales vital for detecting pressure changes, leaving them “functionally deaf”, the report points out. “Long-finned pilot whales are known to follow other members of the pod and appear to spook relatively easily.”

It criticises the Royal Navy’s visual checks for whales before bombs are exploded as “insufficient”, and recommends improved monitoring. It also highlights the routine use of devices elsewhere in the world that burn out rather than detonate bombs.

“Given the potential damage to marine life from the high-order explosions of conventional disposal techniques, it is questionable why this method has not been used routinely in the past,” the report says.

The lead author of the report, Andrew Brownlow from Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Inverness, was pleased that it had “finally” been published. It was hard to be definitive about the causes of mass strandings, he said.

“However we have suggested mitigation strategies which will hopefully reduce the plausible risk from these types of high-energy detonations on marine life. It is hoped they will be taken on board.”

According to Sarah Dolman, Northeast Atlantic programme manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, it was “no coincidence” that the whales were stranded hours after the bombs were exploded.

She said: “Why has it taken four years to publish the report and what measures have the Ministry of Defence (MoD) put in place to evaluate and minimise the impacts of detonations around Garvie Island, to ensure that it adequately protects whales and dolphins since then?”

The MoD said that it accepted the findings of the report. “It identified a number of possible factors that may have influenced events, one of which was the detonation of underwater explosives,” said a spokesman.

“The recommendations will be considered by the MoD and implemented where appropriate. Additional mitigation has already been put in place during munitions disposal activities conducted since 2011.”

11 thoughts on “British Royal Navy killed whales, report published at last

  1. Thursday 24th September 2015

    posted by Zoe Streatfield in Britain

    THE SNP called for urgent clarification yesterday on Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans to double the size of a torpedo testing range off the west coast of Scotland without a consultation.

    MP Ian Blackford wrote to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon accusing the MoD of “riding roughshod” over Scottish communities after the Westminster government failed to carry out a public consultation despite assurances that it would.

    He stated that the communities affected were “effectively faced with a fait accompli” as proposed changes to the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (Butec) could threaten the livelihoods of around 140 fishermen working in the area.

    Mr Blackford raised serious concerns after the proposed changes were reported in the local press just as Westminster went into its summer recess, limiting the ability of him and others “to question the minister as to what is going on.”

    He demanded that Mr Fallon make a statement in the Commons, saying that it was “imperative that we have a meaningful consultation within the affected communities and a willingness to take account of local interests.”

    SNP Westminster defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara added that it was “another example of MoD decisions being made in London with no knowledge of the local area or of the potential economic impact on fragile fishing jobs.

    “The Minister for Defence Procurement gave several assurances that the proposed changes would be part of a formal consultation and this should take place before changes to bylaws are made.”


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  6. Aquatic animals harmed by our noise

    08 June 2016

    Two PhD defences on 9 June by behavioural biologist Errol Neo and underwater acousticianan Özkan Sertlek relate to measuring noise in the North Sea and the harm this noise can do to aquatic animals and their surroundings. Little is known about how harmful human noise can be to aquatic animals.

    Natural and human sounds underwater

    Although we may think it is silent underwater, this is certainly not true. It is not just the rain, storms, waves and other natural sounds that make a lot of noise underwater; humans make quite a racket too. Take intensive shipping with its ever larger and louder ships, cables being laid on the seabed and piles being driven for bridges, oil rigs and wind turbines. As visibility can be poor underwater, marine inhabitants are largely dependent on hearing and producing sounds for their communication and orientation, sometimes over huge distances. Sound propagates much better in sea water than in air.

    Effect of sound on the marine environment

    Fish have almost the same ears as land vertebrates, but they are internal. What is the effect of all this noise on aquatic animals? We know that a sudden burst of noise or long-term exposure to loud noise (nightclubs) can damage our hearing. This is no different in aquatic animals. So what effect does the continuous noise, pulsating or constant, caused by humans have on aquatic animals and the marine environment? Does it disrupt spawning, can they still find a partner, do they still hear predators approach, can they still use sound to orient themselves over great distances? Research into this is in its infancy.

    The National Ocean and Coastal Research Programme (ZKO) of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is funding a large project to study the effects of underwater noise on fish and marine mammals in the Dutch part of the North Sea. Both PhD studies are part of this project and were conducted at the Institute of Biology Leiden in collaboration with TNO Acoustics & Sonar, The Hague. For his dissertation, Errol Neo studied the behaviour of seabass who were exposed to noise, both constant sound and sound with intervals. He conducted part of the research at SEAMARCO research station in the province of Zeeland. Here he released groups of four seabass from a net into a big tank measuring seven metres long, four metres wide and two metres high. When sounds were played, the fishes swam closer together and sank down.

    Swimming patterns resumed

    After some time the seabass resumed their regular swimming patterns and appeared to have become accustomed to the noise. The researchers noticed that the fishes sooner became accustomed to louder sounds that were played without interruption than to quieter ones that were played at intervals. After each interval the sound appeared to scare them again. One limitation to the study was that the fishes could not swim away. The tests were repeated in a more natural situation: a large floating net in the Jacobahaven, a harbour in the Oosterschelde estuary. The results were similar.

    Scientific models

    In another part of the NWO/ZKO project, Özkan Sertlek studied the distribution and nature of sound underwater in the Dutch part of the North Sea. He selected, combined and optimised scientific models for sound power level and sound propagation, and used the standards for the measurement of underwater noise to validate them. He then took existing data on the sound produced by ships, underwater explosions (a lot of Second World War munitions are still found on the seabed and detonated), seismographic research and wind and created separate noise maps The next step was to integrate these. With this work alone he has made an important contribution to the modelling of sound propagation, which is important for predicting effects.

    Contributions of different sources

    The largest contribution to the annual noise energy budget is coming from ships at the low frequencies and from wind at the high frequencies. At some local regions in the southern part of the Dutch North Sea, underwater explosions and seismic surveys can be louder than ships, except for the busy area in the approach of the harbour of Rotterdam.

    Linking to biological data

    In the next step of his research Sertlek linked his data to biological data on the distribution and swimming patterns of porpoises. The data came from a third study in the NWO/ZKO project, by postdoc Geert Aarts. Within the project it was found that annually 800 to 8,000 porpoises suffer from permanent hearing loss and more than 10,000 from temporary hearing loss as a consequence of the detonation of old munitions.
    Importance of research into the effect of noise

    Research into the effect of noise on aquatic animals is important for their protection in itself but also because fish are an important source of food for many people around the world.

    The European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires all EU member states to devise a strategy for the protection, conservation and recovery of the marine environment. This also includes sound: the noise of human activity must not exceed a level at which it adversely affects the marine environment. As yet, there is no such directive for freshwater – rivers and lakes.


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