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Whales die on Crete beaches

- by Dabs Banner

Experts fear link to sonar use in naval exercises.

Holiday visitors on Crete report concern at the large number of dead and stranded whales found on beaches along the popular south east coast of the island.

Environmental groups are also troubled at the strandings which they fear may have been caused by NATO naval exercises in the Mediterranean.

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has published photos that claim to show stranded dead whales along the south-east beaches of Crete at the same time that naval exercise called Operation Noble Dina is held in the local waters involving US, Greek and Israeli warships.

Environmental experts fear explosions, sonar signals and other noise caused by warships could be affecting marine mammals, especially beaked whales, which are known to be sensitive to noise.

It appears that the stranded whales have been found in areas already dubbed 'areas of special concern' for beaked whales by members of ACCOBAMS (Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black and Mediterranean Seas).

A call to avoid these areas has been ignored by governments who insist that the need for military preparedness overrides any consideration for wildlife.

Whales deaths in the Aegean is not a new problem for Greece. Dozens of beaked whales were washed ashore on the Peloponnese coast in 1996 and again in 1997.

More recently stranded whales turned up on Corfu in 2012 as navies from several countries carried out exercises in the Ionian Sea using high powered sonar to communicate.

According to the US Smithsonian Institute and the International Whaling Commission, mass stranding of beaked whales have always happened when naval activities, usually involving sonar, have taken place in the vicinity.

Greek-based environmental group Pelagos has highlighted a two-week military exercise in the waters off Crete that included anti-submarine warfare (ASW), indicating the use of high-powered military sonar.

The effect of sonar and other underwater noise on mammals is still an area of contention between scientists.

Post-mortem analysis may help to provide direct evidence that whales have been driven ashore by military sonar activity, especially given evidence of the link between naval operations and beaked whale strandings.

There is not yet enough scientific evidence to link military sonar use with the beached beaked whales but environmentalists are asking that military use of sonar be curbed until more is understood about the problem .

Crete authorities and local volunteers have been alerted to the situation and are on the lookout for beaches whales in the area.