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Struggle To Prevent Mass Stranding Of Pilot Whales

Struggle To Prevent Mass Stranding Of Pilot Whales

Conservationists are battling to prevent about 100 pilot whales being stranded in a sea loch in the Western Isles of Scotland.

The large pod of whales is circling off Loch Carnan in South Uist and up to 20 appear to have severe head injuries, raising fears they have already struck the rocky foreshore of the loch.

Pilot Whales Follow Their Leader

As their name implies, pilot whales tend to follow a leader. Thus, animal welfare experts fear that if some injured animals attempt to beach themselves, many others will follow them onto the shore, and numerous fatalities could result.

From The Guardian:

Experts in whale strandings from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and a senior inspector from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) are travelling to the scene in case the whales attempt to beach themselves.


Calum Watt, the SSPCA’s senior inspector for the Western Isles, is en route to the loch. He said: “When pilot whales come inshore there is a very strong chance some among the group are sick or injured.

“We believe around 20 of these whales have severe head injuries but at this stage we aren’t sure of the cause. One possibility is these injuries were sustained during a previous attempt to strand themselves.
“Pilot whales have extremely strong social bonds, which sadly means healthy whales within the pod will follow sick and injured whales on to the shore.”

33 Whales Died Last November

As Care2 reported here, 33 whales died in a mass beaching off the coast of County Donegal, in Northern Ireland, last November.

Why Is This Happening?

That’s the big unanswered question. Aside from the fact, as noted above, that  pilot whales tend to stick together, meaning that the healthy will follow the sick onto shore, Philip Hoare, writing in The Guardian, asks whether bad weather might be to blame, or if perhaps seismic activity is relevant. (Hoare notes that pilot whales died off New Zealand’s south island just before the Christchurch earthquake, and that a week later, fifty melon-headed whales beached themselves in Japan just prior to that country’s earthquake.)

But Hoare settles in on the idea that human-generated noise may be to blame.
Many animal rights’ campaigners in the U.K. believe that Royal Navy sonar equipment can disturb the navigational skills of these deep diving whales, leading them to beach themselves.

With this understanding, the U.S. Navy was ordered not to use mid-frequency sonar during training exercises from 2007 to 2009, after a judge found in favor of activists who argued that the devices harmed marine mammals in the area.

Let’s hope, in spite of all, that this incident does not end in tragedy.


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Photo credit: futureshape via Creative Commons

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1:46PM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

July 2011; yet more Pilot Whale deaths in Scotland, this time at Durness.

2:34AM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

Thank you very much for the article. Ti is good that some whales could have been saved, but it is sad that it could not happen to all

So sad, that "we" humans have so big, but bad, influence on everything around us and cause so much terrible things, that all the technigues disturb all around, so animals get confused and get lost

Does anyone know the wonderful movie "whale rider"?

2:33AM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

This is a very sad story. An other animal has to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day).

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

11:44PM PDT on May 28, 2011

I live on the north-east coast of Scotland where some years ago , when I was on holiday in the country, I perceived a very low frequency hum being emitted from the sea. No one knows what was causing it, some said it could be far-off oil-rig operations. It sounded like a ship's engine closeby but there were no ships or rigs to be seen and the sound lasted for months. It seemed to follow you wherever you went and only when indoors could you escape the depressing drone. If it really was oil-rigs, that is very disturbing, because the closest rigs are miles and miles distant, not even visible. It seemed to me that the sea was acting as a huge amplifier, and obviously low frequency travels well underwater. Whales use it for communication over long distances. I can't imagine what it must be like for anything living in the sea.

3:17PM PDT on May 26, 2011

Maybe they are trying to avoid going to that country where they are stabbed to death in the water by hoards of people who enjoy killing them.
What a perverse world this is when some countries want to kill them in a horrible way and other countries do everything to save them beaching and ultimately dying.

7:56AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Thanks :-(

6:00AM PDT on May 25, 2011

I understand it is because of the pipeline that has been built under the sea that the whales are stranding

7:30PM PDT on May 24, 2011

Yeh me too Mary E.

11:36AM PDT on May 23, 2011

Great article.

11:36AM PDT on May 23, 2011

Thanks for sharing.

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