Belfast Telegraph

UK sonar blamed for 33 whale deaths in Donegal

Royal Navy activity off the Scottish coast may have led to the mass beaching of 33 pilot whales on a Donegal island at the weekend.

Tests got under way on Rutland Island off Burtonport yesterday to determine whether the pod of adult and juvenile whales that washed up on Saturday was the same group being monitored in the outer Hebrides in Scotland last weekend.

Stormy weather has prevented experts from Britain travelling to the remote island to carry out post mortem examinations on the female and young whales whose bodies lay strewn across the beach.

Simon Berrow, of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), said yesterday that a common cause for deep-diving pilot whales to beach was gas embolism brought on by acoustic trauma.

“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,” he said.

In the absence of post mortem examinations, it will be difficult to determine why the whales beached but a team from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology was on site yesterday to document and photograph the whales to see whether they can be matched to the Scottish animals.

Locals have confirmed that the animals had been seen feeding in the area around Arranmore Island since Tuesday but the IWDG was only made aware of their presence after the disaster had occurred.

“If we had been notified there is a possibility we could have rallied divers and ribs to try to herd them back out into the deep although sometimes this does not work,” Mr Berrow said.

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