Posted by: The ocean update | December 5, 2011

Are humans to blame for the new mass beaked whale strandings ? (Greece, italy)

One of 13 Cuviers' beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) stranded in Kyparisiassis Gulf in Greece in 1996 after the use of naval sonars in the area.

01.12.2011. Fear is a final disappearance of the population of the Ionian Sea Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), already strongly affected by NATO military exercises. The last event was in February, East of Sicily.

On 30th November, 3 Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded at two remote locations of 23 km, on the Greek island of Corfu.

A refloating attempt, by the local population, has not paid off for two individuals : one died at 200 m of the coast, found 3-4 m depth, in a “strange” position : the head floating on the surface and the rest of the body on the seafloor, the second (sil is the same individual) restranded after swimming on 600 m and was raised a second time, in the dark. The third has not been seen, this does not mean that it has been saved.

Regular whistles on the surface, from the ocean and whose intensity grew by entering in the water, was heard by rescuers, for more than two hours, the two places of grounding. They were characterized by a transmission frequency followed by breaks of 10 to 15 s.

Although no military vessel or seismic exploration was seen by the rescuers, a fisherman however noted a research vessel “unusual”. We seriously wondered on the possibility of a link between these noise emissions, the current oil exploration or the point of start in this area, and stranding.

In parallel, a mother of more than 5 m long and her calf of 2 m, of the same species, recorded at Cape Rizzuto (protected marine area), Ionian coast of Calabria, in Italy.

The mother did not survive, unlike her which is not new. Local veterinary authorities have been notified.

Expected thus very soon new strandings in the region.


Indian Ocean 2004 : the frigate Scirocco (1st plan) with the German frigate Augsburg.

04.12.2011. From November 27th till December 2nd, the Italian Navy has been conducting a major exercise known as “Mare Aperto” in the central-southern Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and southern Adriatic.   The exercise includes maritime surveillance and force projection from the sea.  In past years, “Mare Aperto” has involved as many as 12 ships including frigates and aircraft carriers.

At least one of the participating ships in this year’s exercise is an Italian Maestrale-class (which includes eight vessels) frigate called the Scirocco (F573).  The Maestrale class is reportedly equipped with two active sonar systems : the hull-mounted DE 1160B, similar to to the U.S. Navy’s AN/AQS-56 ; and VDS DE 1164, a variable-depth version of the same system.

For the moment, no link can be established between the mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales and this naval exercise. All possible causes, including other anthropogenic noise sources, should be investigated.

In the meantime, it becomes urgent that ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area) takes action and obtains specific information from the Italian Navy on the nature, timing, and location of activities associated with “Mare Aperto”, including the use of active acoustic systems.

Thanks to Helene for the translation 😉

Update Sat, 10 Dec 2011


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