A new atypical mass stranding was reported early this morning in the waters around the Greek Island of Corfu, as announced by Dr. Alexandros Frantzis through the MARMAM mailing list (see message below). Of course the event has generated great concern through the scientific community. You can follow the evolution of the situation through the MARMAM discussion list.
Once more we have bad news regarding Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Ionian Sea. The local population unit, which has repeatedly been affected by NATO naval activity (last time in February 2011 east of Sicily) may be steadily heading towards its extinction…
Today 30 November 2011 at least three Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded alive and atypically in west Corfu, along 23 km of coast. All whales were led offshore by people who tried to rescue them. One whale died some 200 m offshore. Another whale, after having swam some 600 m offshore, returned and stranded once more (if this wasn’t a different animal). It was led once more offshore after the sunset, so no further information is available so far. The third animal was not seen after it was “rescued”.
I would like to draw your attention on two “peculiarities”:
1) Independent rescuers in two different stranding areas, reported that they were hearing “whistles” while approaching the single animals. The “whistles” were heard even out of the water at a distance of 100 m from the animal (!), and became much louder when the rescuers entered the water to approach the animal. The rescuers kept hearing the “whistles” until they left the place, two hours after the death of the unique whale present! They thought that there might be other whales calling the stranded animal from further offshore, although they could observe nothing for hours.
Two independent rescuers (separated by 23 km) described these “whistles” as “emission”-pause of 10-15 seconds-“emission”-pause and so on. I wonder if what the rescuers were hearing was the probable sonic cause of the stranding. If you have a similar experience or knowledge, please share it with us.
The rescuers didn’t see any military or seismic survey vessels from the shore. A fisherman from the area said that today he saw an “unusual” research vessel offshore that he believes (it is known in the area that seismic surveys have started or are about to start) was performing research for oil.
2) The whale that died 200 m offshore was found at about 3-4 m depth at an unusual position (to me at least). Its flukes were on the sea bed while the beak and part of the head of the animal was out of the water! For some reason the head could float at surface and the animal never sunk. Does anyone has an explanation?
Unfortunately no necropsy was performed to the animal that died.
The port-police authorities and local volunteers have been alerted and we just hope that tomorrow we won’t find more animals along the coasts.
Repeated use of military sonar and now growing seismic survey activity go on in an area that is critical for the two deep diving Mediterranean species, the Cuvier’s and the sperm whales. In 2007 ACCOBAMS officially proposed the creation of a MPA for deep diving cetaceans in the eastern Ionian Sea (Hellenic Trench), but nothing has happened so far.