Mass Stranding Of Pilot Whales In Northern Scotland
Despite 25 whales failing to survive, the rescuers who took part in the operation led by BDMLR managed to prevent a further 44 whales becoming stuck on the shoreline and guided them back out to sea.
That feat alone makes this one of the most successful whale stranding operations in the UK, and those who went to the scene to help (including a WDCS team) should be proud of their efforts.Read a moving personal account
of the rescue operation on our blog.
WDCS International director of science, Mark Simmonds, says; "It is still too early to be absolutely sure that the refloated whales are all safe but this was a remarkable success – to get so many animals back in the water and out of the Kyle was a remarkable achievement.
“As a deep diving and sociable species, pilot whales are very vulnerable to human activities, and especially noise pollution. Reportedly, old munitions were being blown up off Cape Wrath, an MOD bombing range that is routinely used for such purposes. However, the way the pathologists will approach this is to collect as many samples from as many dead animals as possible and do a thorough investigation for ALL causes of death.”
WDCS head of policy in Scotland, Sarah Dolman says: “We don’t currently know whether the MOD is responsible for this stranding or not. That it could be means that existing environmental assessments are flawed. This area makes up part of a massive offshore exercise area that is routinely used for all sorts of military activities that can disturb and harm whales and dolphins and other marine life, and WDCS has been requesting a full environmental impact assessment of activities in this region for many years. This is long overdue.”
WDCS will pursue an investigation into MOD activities if necessary and continue to help with similar strandings in the future.
You can help WDCS in its research on the effects of underwater noise on whales and dolphins and with its efforts to save whales and dolphins when they strand.
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.Pilot whale strandings
Long-finned pilot whales are amongst those whale species known to regularly mass live strand around the world. The principle reason for this is that they live in very tightly socially knit schools. Out in the deep seas this works very well and they collaborate in all their activities, including defending themselves. In shallow conditions, however, this same life strategy gets them into trouble and, as they try to help each other, they may all come ashore.
This explains why they mass live strand but not necessarily why they found themselves in dangerous shallow waters in this case. This may be caused by both natural and unnatural factors. A navigational error by a lead animal or the presence of a sick group member might be the cause. However, this is also the same species that is killed in drive hunts in the Faroe Islands where they are driven ashore by a line of noisy boats. This illustrates their vulnerability to being driven by loud noise and we are putting a lot of loud noises into the oceans these days. The situation that this group found itself in looks very much like a whale trap, a narrow and potentially confusing body of water with many soft sandbank areas that may confound their echolocation abilities. Something may have startled the group out at sea and they panicked, came into this unusual situation and were unable to find their way out. The stranding of one or two animals would possibly cause distress and the others in the group would try to assist the stranded individuals and themselves get into trouble.
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