The Royal Navy has claimed it is being treated as a “common whipping boy” following media speculation that its use of sonar could be to blame for a mass stranding of pilot whales on a Co Donegal island.
Thirty-three whales were found washed up dead on the beach at the remote Rutland Island earlier this month — 19 of them females, 12 male and one male calf.
The sex of one animal could not be defined as it was buried in the sand.
The pod could be the same group that came close to stranding on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides several weeks ago. If so, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it would be unusual for a pod of pilot whales to near strand in the Hebrides, then travel to west Donegal to strand.
The Royal Navy insists its activities had nothing to do with the mass stranding, saying the nearest vessel to the incident on Friday and Saturday was more than 50 nautical miles away, at the Clyde Naval Base, Faslane, and was not using sonar.
Insisting the Royal Navy uses sonar in an environmentally responsible way, a spokesman said: “The Royal Navy is a common whipping boy in the case of many of these strandings, which can be due to any number of factors.”
However, the IWDG said it would be negligent not to include sonar as a possible case.
The group said recording of strandings of deep diving species in Irish and UK waters have risen to unprecedented levels.
“We feel that, rather than scapegoat the British Navy, we are legitimately identifying potential impacts on deep-diving whale species,” a spokesman said.
IWDG strandings co-ordinator Mick O’Connell admitted that, because no post-mortem has been carried out, pinpointing the cause of death can only be pure speculation.
Possible reasons for the strandings include the confusion caused by deepwater species straying into shallows and the strong family bonds that can result in pods following a sick or injured leader into danger, he added.