Greece will temporarily stop seismic surveys in the Ionian Sea near the island of Corfu after a spate of whale strandings were recorded on the island’s shores, the Greek Environment Ministry stated on Thursday.
While not confirmed, experts believe that seismic activity in the sea may be linked to the recent strandings of three Cuvier’s beaked whales on a beach in Corfu, as the incidents correspond to seismic surveys that took place on the research vessel SW Cook nearby.
The ship was carrying out research for the extraction of oil and gas under the sea.
Seismic surveys suspended in Greece over beached whales
All three of the beached whales did not previously suffer from health problems and were successfully released in deeper waters by volunteers.
The Ministry, which will investigate the strandings, has requested “immediate and detailed” information regarding the seismic surveys from ELPE Upstream, the company spearheading the surveys.
It will examine whether or not the company was following the guidelines set out in the country’s environmental action plan, which was passed last year, while conducting the seismic surveys.
Previously, Greek and international wildlife and environmental agencies reached out to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis regarding the damaging effect seismic activity has on whales.
Beaked whales sensitive to noise, sonar
Conservation charities WWF Greece and Arion have posted photos of whales lying on a beach on social media saying that they suspect that their disorientation is not coincidental and is linked to the seismic operations.
Such surveys often produce loud, disorienting noise underwater that can confuse and injure sea mammals.
These organizations, along with others, including Greenpeace, called upon the Greek government to suspend the surveys until it could verify that they are safe for whales and other sea mammals.
The beaked whale is closely related to toothed whales such as killer whales and narwhals.
This species lives in water deeper than 1,000 feet (300 meters), but is known to dive as deep as an incredible 9,816 feet (2,992 meters). Despite this, the beaked whale is among the most commonly spotted beached whales.
Thankfully, the beached whale is populous in seas and oceans across the world, including Greece, and is not threatened or endangered. It is believed that over 100,000 beaked whales live in the world’s oceans, with the vast majority living in the eastern Pacific.
It seems that beaked whales react negatively to sonar and are more sensitive to the technology and noise than other marine life. Scientists posit that this sensitivity to sonar may be at the root of many strandings and beachings of the species.
Evidence suggests that more beached beaked whales are found in areas of the sea where there is heavy sonar activity.