Navy exercises blamed over dead dolphins

A A A

Naval exercises could have contributed to the mass stranding of 26 dolphins on the Cornish coast a year ago, a scientific report found today.

The pod of dolphins beached themselves at four separate locations around the Percuil river near Falmouth in June last year after Navy exercises in the area involving surface ships and a submarine.

At the time, rescuers said they believed the worst mass stranding of the marine mammals in UK waters was the result of the dolphins being panicked by an underwater disturbance.

According to the today's study led by Zoological Society of London (ZSL) researchers, sonar used in the exercises was "highly unlikely" to have directly caused the dolphins to beach themselves.

But the activities of the Navy could have been a contributing factor in pushing the marine mammals close to shore and put them at risk of beaching.

Dr Paul Jepson, of ZSL, said: "We don't have definitive information but we've ruled out everything else, and it's possible that something in the naval exercises caused the mass stranding."

The study said a definite cause for the stranding could not be found, although the dolphins could have reacted to a "trigger" event or suffered an "intrinsic error of navigation".

The research said the common dolphins were unusually close to shore and at a greater risk of beaching themselves - possibly because they were in unfamiliar waters.

Naval activities such as the use of sonar for anti-submarine training could have been a factor in the dolphins, which are sensitive to underwater sounds, coming closer to shore.

Natural behaviour such as foraging for food could also have played a part.

The ZSL researchers said information supplied by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under the Freedom of Information Act showed several days of "mid-frequency sonars for anti-submarine warfare training" ended some 60 hours before the stranding.

A "short-range side-scan sonar" for sea-bed mapping trials was used by the Navy the day before the dolphins beached themselves, but the technology is common and has not been implicated in strandings, the study said.

As a result the use of underwater sonar in the Navy exercises was "highly unlikely to have directly triggered the mass stranding event", but the researchers believe other parts of the exercises could be to blame.

The study also ruled out other potential causes including disease, poisoning, attacks by killer whales or bottlenose dolphins and even earthquakes as the reason for the mass stranding - only the fourth recorded in England since 1913.

In the wake of the report, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said it believed that as all other potential causes had been ruled out, the military was to blame of the strandings.

Sarah Dolman, ocean noise campaigner for WDCS, said: "The post-mortem results have shown us that those dolphins that died were healthy animals prior to stranding.

"Something frightened them ashore, way up inside the river system, where this species in not generally known to go.

"The unusual behavioural response of all these groups of otherwise healthy animals was triggered by something.

"An 'error of navigation' would not lead this many dolphins to strand, and other groups to behave in such an unusual manner, on the same morning - but over a distance of 20km."

She called on the Ministry of Defence to conduct transparent environmental assessments of its exercises to see what effect they were having on marine life, and to suspend use of sonar once a stranding occurs until rescued animals are out of danger.

The mass beaching in Cornwall was one of two unusual stranding events of cetaceans - the group of marine mammals including whales, dolphins and porpoises - last year.

No cause could be found for the other event, in which a number of long-finned pilot whales and various species of beaked whale were found stranded in Scotland, Wales and Ireland over a three-month period at the beginning of 2008.

The annual report for 2008 from the UK Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme, also published today, revealed the number of dead and stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises increased by 6.2% on the previous year.

Some 583 cetaceans were reported to the programme, of which 485 were found stranded and dead, 81 were live strandings and 17 were found dead at sea.

The most common species reported were harbour porpoises which were mainly found to have died of starvation, disease, attacks by bottlenose dolphins or as a result of being accidentally caught by fishermen, and short-beaked common dolphins, which mostly died as a result of stranding themselves live, the report revealed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate