WDC has teamed up with the Animal Welfare Institute and NOAH (Norway’s largest NGO for animals) to urge the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) to revoke its approval of a potentially cruel and dangerous experiment on wild minke whales. The research aims to capture whales off Vestvågøy in the Lofoten area of northern Norway to study how their brains respond to ocean noise.
According to a permit issued by Mattilsynet, the project is expected to take place from 15th June to 22nd May and restart in 2022. A mile-wide net will be used to herd migrating juvenile minke whales into an enclosure, before they are cornered inside a small, modified aquaculture cage. Once the whales are trapped, the researchers will try to measure their brain waves to determine how they might react to naval sonar and noise from oil and gas exploration. As many as 12 whales could be held captive for as long as four days before being released.
'This research project is alarming for several reasons,' said Dr. Siri Martinsen, veterinarian with NOAH. 'We are very concerned for the welfare of the involved whales, as these circumstances are very likely to cause them stress and may even impact their health. There is a significant risk that the whales will panic once they are trapped, causing them to thrash or flail about, which could lead to serious injuries as they attempt to flee.'
The researchers have proposed using sedation to calm whales who display signs of stress and will even go as far as stunning them in emergency situations. Vanesa Tossenberger, policy director with WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, cautioned that 'little is known about sedating or stunning wild whales and dolphins, and it is therefore rarely attempted. Available data indicate that sedation of baleen whales in the wild could be life-threatening.'
'If a minke whale, even a juvenile, were to respond with great force, it also could be extremely dangerous for the human researchers,' added Susan Millward, director of AWI’s marine program. 'Since whale reactions can be unpredictable, we believe that these researchers — particularly those in the water — will be at risk of serious injury. It is simply not worth taking a chance, particularly when existing research already tells us how baleen whales are affected by ocean noise.'
We are also concerned about the potential impacts to other species, including marine mammals and seabirds that could become entangled in the various nets used to cordon off the research area.
Please send an email to Ingunn Midttun Godal the CEO of Mattilsynet (this is the Norwegian Food Safety Authority which also covers animal welfare).
Urge her to cancel this project.
Her email address is: [email protected]
If you are in the UK, please cc your email to the Norwegian Embassy in London: [email protected]
You can copy and paste our template email but do feel free to use or add your own words:
Dear Ingunn Midttun Godal
Cc His Excellency the Ambassador to the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the United Kingdom, Mr. Wegger Chr. Strømmen
I urge you to cancel the cruel and dangerous experiment on wild minke whales planned to take place off Vestvågøy in May and June.
The proposed research is likely to cause the whales terrible stress which could create a dangerous situation for both whales and researchers.
I am concerned by the suggestion that researchers may sedate and even stun the whales. The little that is known about this type of procedure tells us that it is too risky to attempt.
Science already tells us what we need to know about how human-made noise affects minke and other baleen whales, so the proposed study is unnecessary and will expose the whales to considerable trauma, potentially even resulting in their death.
It is unacceptable to subject whales to such an experiment. If the project is not stopped, it will lead to considerable suffering for the individual whales and damage Norway's good reputation among the international public.
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