Posted by: The ocean update | February 4, 2015

Russian sub hunt blamed for mass whale beachings off Irish coast

Stranded : A whale beached in Ireland

Stranded : A whale beached in Ireland

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 (Lynne Kelleher). The hunt for a suspected Russian submarine off the coast of Scotland may have been the cause of the mass stranding of eight rare whales off the Irish coast.

It is suspected that intensely loud sonar involved in the hunt for a rogue submarine could have killed eight Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species rarely seen in British waters, discovered on beaches all over Ireland in recent weeks.

It comes as a record number of 33 whales and dolphins have washed up dead on Irish shores so far this year.

The dead mammals include 16 common dolphins, a minke whale, a sperm whale, pilot whales, a fin whale, harbour porpoises, as well as two leatherback turtles.

Mick O’Connell, from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said: “We’ve had the busiest January ever with more than 30 strandings already this year. We’ve never had so many strandings in the one month and we’ve never had so many beaked whale strandings in such a short period of time

“There are all different reasons but we don’t do post mortems so we don’t know for sure. There are crazy numbers. It’s at least double what we would expect. It’s all very unfortunate. It’s the most ever recorded in one month.”

The reported search by the British navy warships for a suspected Russian submarine off the coast of Scotland just before Christmas is thought to be linked to the mass stranding of rare, deep-diving whales all up the coast of Scotland and Ireland.

Experts consider a multiple stranding of these 23-foot brown whales to be highly abnormal and it is believed from the state of the carcasses washed up in Ireland this month that most of the eight whales died in the same incident.

This species is the current world-record holder for the longest and deepest dive for a mammal − down to 1.8 miles for a staggering two hours and 17 minutes. The main suspect is sonar, as it is known that beaked whales are highly sensitive to the powerful sound waves.

Mick O’Connell said : “When things like this happened to beaked whales before it has tended to be linked to naval exercises.

“We can’t say what caused their deaths. There is no system in place for doing post mortems for freshly dead animals and most of these washed in had already been dead for a week or two.

“They washed in from Portballintrae in Antrim in Northern Ireland right the way down to Kerry.”

The most recently discovered two beaked whales washed up in recent days in Ballybunion in Kerry and Clew Bay in Mayo. The other whales were found off the coasts of Donegal and Galway.

Groups of beaked whales have been killed, with sonar suspected as the direct cause, several times in recent years with incidents including anti-submarine exercises in Greece in 1996, the Bahamas in 2000 and the Canary Islands in 2002 (Ed Sibylline : so many places all around the world where sonars have been suspected but where no investigation has been conducted ; ej. : France, every year, during the winter, military training period, mass stranding occurs and no “scientific” necropsy performed ! All cetaceans and marine life can be killed by sonar, depending the distance from the emisor).

Mick O’Connell said intensely loud sonar can distress the whales into fatally surfacing too quickly, similar to human divers getting “the bends”.

He added that it is suspected that some of the common dolphins found dead this month could have drowned in the nets of huge trawlers fishing off the Irish coast.

“There are quite a few common dolphins around the Donegal and Mayo coast. We can’t prove anything, but I suspect a lot of those would be related to enormous trawlers off the coast.”

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