Sonar threat to world's whales

Secret naval exercises lead to deaths of thousands of giant mammals worldwide. Stricken whale in Thames dies after dramatic attempt to return it to the ocean

A A A

Secret sonar from naval ships is killing thousands of whales around the world and could have disoriented the two-ton mammal that died last night after becoming stranded in the Thames, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has established.

The northern bottlenose whale died despite dramatic attempts at a rescue witnessed by thousands of people on the banks of the river, and millions on television. The whale was lifted on to a barge and carried down the river, in the hope that it could be taken to the open sea. But its condition deteriorated, it began to suffer muscle spasms, and it died before anything further could be done.

Experts believe that the whale's senses could have been damaged by military sonar. Some 30 strandings and deaths of whales around the world - from Tasmania to North America - have been linked to its use. The United Nations and other international bodies have warned that it is a major threat to the animals.

The investigation has also revealed that - in a separate, but deeply embarrassing development - the Government faces being hauled before the European Court for failing to take enough care of the whales and dolphins around Britain's shores.

Professor Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Canada - acknowledged to be the world's leading expert on northern bottlenose whales - said yesterday that he had never known the deep-ocean species to wander so far from its habitat.

"It would be unusual, and cause concern, for one to be found in the North Sea or English Channel, let alone a long way up a pretty shallow river," he said. "Its nearest habitat would be south-west of Cornwall. We know that beaked whales - the group of species to which the northern bottlenose whale belongs - are particularly sensitive to underwater noise. There has been a lot of seismic activity off northern Scotland and in the North Sea, and I understand that the Royal Navy exercises frequently."

Many strandings and deaths of whales and dolphins have been linked to sonar surveys in recent years (see table). In March 2000, for example, whales of four species beached themselves in the Bahamas after a battle group from the US navy used sonar nearby. A US government investigation established that they had been affected by the sonar. Since then, the area's population of Cuvier's beaked whales has virtually disappeared; investigators conclude that they have either abandoned the area or died at sea.

The Washington-based National Resources Defence Council says that more than 30 such incidents have been linked to sonar use around the world.

Last week, a US court discovered that the US government had cut references to the effects of naval sonar from a report on the stranding of 37 whales in North Carolina a year ago, shortly after military manoeuvres.

Strandings in Britain have more than doubled in the past decade, from 360 in 1994 to 782 in 2004, and vets believe that the number of whales that wash up on shore are only one-tenth of those that die, suggesting that there are thousands of casualties.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has started legal proceedings against Britain for failing adequately to monitor the health of whales and dolphins in its seas.

Strandings: Sonar takes a deadly toll

JAPAN 1990: Six whales die after US Navy tests sonar

GREECE MAY 1996: Twelve Cuvier's beaked whales stranded on the west coast of Greece as Nato sweep the area with sonar.

CANARY ISLANDS JULY 2004: Fourteen whales beach during Nato exercises involving sonar. Strandings in 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 2002 all coincide with naval exercises.

AUSTRALIA NOV 2004: Seventeen whales die in Bass Strait; 50 get stranded 300 miles away; 165 whales and dolphins later found dying. All coincide with sonar activities and seismic surveys.

US JAN 2005: Thirty-nine whales die after US Navy uses sonar in waters off North Carolina.

US March 2005 : Eighty dolphins beach as US Navy sub trails sonar off Florida Keys; 30 die.

TASMANIA OCT 2005: More than 110 pilot whales die; Australian Navy admits to using sonar.

NEW ZEALAND DECEMBER 2005: About 120 pilot whales die in the country's largest beaching for 12 years.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

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

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities