LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA,
Canary Islands, Spain, September 27, 2002
Nine beaked whales died as they stranded themselves on the Canary Islands September 24 and 25 during NATO naval exercises. Vidal Martin of the Society for the Study of the Cetaceans in the Canary Archipelago says volunteers from his group managed to refloat six others.
The whales were found on the beaches of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote islands.
All the whale strandings occurred during NATO manoeuvres called "Neo tapon 2002," in which at least 58 boats, six submarines, and 30 planes participated. Martin says, "A Military High Command recognized that they were making acoustic exercises" at the time of the strandings which occurred in the early morning hours. "At dawn, most of the animals were already beached," Martin said.
The naval exercises were suspended at the request of the Canary Islands government. Still, to date military authorities say they have not found any relationship between their manoeuvres and the strandings.
The work of animal rescue and pursuit was coordinated by the Environment Department of the Canary Islands, with the participation of city councils and town halls of the islands of Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, as well as numerous organizations and volunteers.
The heads of the six animals stranded in Fuerteventura have been transferred to the Veterinary Department of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for analysis. This veterinarian unit is studying their auditory systems and conducting histological analysis.
Similar strandings have occurred in the Canary Islands in 1991, and in every year from 1985 through 1989. In all instances except 1986 and 1987, Martin has documented that naval exercises were taking place at the same time as the strandings.
Members of WWF-Spain protested Thursday in front of the Spanish Ministry of Defense to request that the ministry avoid new events of this type.
Many whales and dolphins depend on sound for their navigation and communication, use echo-location to obtain their food. For a long time, WWF says, it has been known that high levels of noise under water, due to intense a marine traffic, for example, are harmful to these species.