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Dublin: 19 °C Saturday 24 August, 2019

Whale deaths off Donegal could have been caused by navy's sonar

The 33 pilot whales may have died after becoming confused by the British Royal Navy’s sonar activity.

Image: Marc Scott via Creative Commons

INVESTIGATIONS ARE UNDERWAY to determine if the death of 33 pilot whales on a Donegal island at the weekend was caused by sonar activity by the British Royal Navy off the Scottish coast.

The pod of adult and young whales beached on Rutland Island off Burtonport on Sunday, and tests are being carried out to determine if they are same animals being monitored off the outer Hebrides last weekend, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

A pod of “distressed” pilot whales was being monitored on South Uist, by the Outer Hebrides, by the British Coastguard and Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), the Irish Times reports.

The newspaper quotes Simon Berrow, of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) as saying that a possible cause for pilot whales to beach was gas embolism brought on by acoustic trauma. It is possible that such a trauma could have been caused by sonar – which can disturb a whale’s navigational senses.

Naval exercises use a low frequency active sonar which is known to affect whales very badly. Basically it affects their sonar and causes a gas embolism, like the ‘bends’. We are aware that the British Navy had been in the area off Scotland last weekend, although they have not confirmed that exercises were taking place.

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