The recent mass pilot whale strandings off the east coast of Scotland near Fife, as well as a number of unusual strandings of deep water species of whale around the Scottish (and UK) coastline have caused some alarm.
Last week, a sei whale (rarely seen in coastal waters) stranded off Arbroath and WDCS believe four (possibly all Sowerby’s) beaked whales have also come ashore in UK waters, two off the east coast of Scotland.
Post-mortems are being conducted on all animals in condition fit to collect information from. Strandings are often the result of an individual being old or sick. Sometimes the animals may seek to help a sick or injured individual and become stranded themselves as a result – which is often the case with pilot whales for example. It’s also possible that weather conditions have brought about these latest, and unusual strandings, but this number of strandings of offshore species in such a short space of time is rare.
Whilst it is too early to determine what may have caused these recent strandings, given the number of strandings that have occurred in such a short space of time, the effects of intense noise levels from industrial activity can not be ruled out.
The Firths of Forth and Tay are busy industrial areas where activities, such as dredging and construction under the sea are common place. However, excessive noise in the water can kill, injury and disturb whales and dolphins. They live in and rely on a world of water and sound. They feed, communicate and find their way around their world using sound. If you introduce high levels of unnatural noise into that world, then they can suffer as a result.
Marine Scotland, the government body that manage Scotland’s seas, were very forthcoming with providing details to WDCS regarding all licensed and unlicensed activities occurring at the time of the pilot whale stranding, and the wind farm developers that were conducting surveys in the region were also co-operative.
It is too early to conclude the cause of any of these strandings. Initial reports suggest the sei whale was very sick. But, given the number of species and the short period of time, WDCS is calling on the UK Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to allow funds for a full and transparent investigation. We also need the Scottish government to better consider the potential consequences of geophysical surveys on protected species and to licence such activities appropriately.