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.
Photo credit: futureshape via Creative Commons