Sonar Blamed for Recent Whale Beachings

Written by on September 20, 2012 in Marine Life, Physical Oceanography

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), the recent whale beachings in Scotland could be due to sonar used at a windfarm offshore of Scotland’s east coast.

Pilot whale

Pilot whale. Photo credit Adam Li, NOAA’s NMFS, SWFSC.

Recently, vessels have been scanning the seabed of the Firth of Forth and North Seas to find the best locations for the windfarms.  During the same weeks, 17 pilot whales died in a mass bleaching event in nearby areas.  The day before, a minke whale was found dead off the coast of Angus.

Another pod of 24 pilot whales was spotted in very shallow waters around the same time; luckily they returned to sea without any deaths.  Just last week, a Sei whale was found dead on the shore of Arbroath.

The WDCS says that the low-frequency pulses used to map the ocean floor can interfere with the natural sonar used by whales and dolphins. This affects their communication and navigation abilities.

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which led the rescue attempt of the beached pilot whales, agrees that sonar could have been the cause.  However, spokesman Stephen Marsh said that the surveys could not be directly blamed.

“It is too early to determine what may have caused these recent standings in Scotland and, if a post mortem is not carried out soon after the death of a stranded whale, the reason for a stranding may never be known,” explained Danny Groves of the WDCS.

“But excessive noise in the water can kill whales and dolphins.  They live in a world of water and sound.  They feed, communicate and find their way around their world using sound,” he said.  “If you introduce high levels of unnatural noise into that world, then they will suffer.”


Offshore windfarm. photo credit: Wessex Archaeology via photo pin cc

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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