More Whales Strand After Noisy Naval Exercise

Sadly, there has been another mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) that coincides with naval activities involving sonar blasts. This one occurred over several days in early April in waters south of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. From first reports, the incident appears to have involved at least five single stranding events and seven animals. A trilateral military exercise named Noble Dina 2014, involving the United States, Israel and Greece, preceded the strandings. The exercises included anti-submarine warfare, usually involving the use of active sonar, which has been irrefutably correlated with strandings of beaked whales and other cetaceans at many locations across the globe. This part of the Mediterranean Sea is well known habitat for beaked whales, which are particularly susceptible to anthropogenic or human-generated noise. It is believed that because they are deep-diving animals—just recently a whale was recorded to dive to almost 10,000 feet, while another stayed down for 138 minutes—their flight response to noise results in them rising too quickly and suffering from a debilitating condition similar to “the bends” in human divers. Necropsies of affected individuals will continue, as will the question of why naval exercises were taking place in known beaked whale habitat.