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Investigate Navy’s Role in Whale Beachings

The last two years have been record-breaking in the number of whales beached on Iceland’s shores, Vísir reports. MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson wants to know whether the incidents are connected to increased submarine activity in Iceland’s waters, and in particular, the use of sonar equipment. Though an international investigation into whale beaching in the area is ongoing, it has proved difficult to obtain information on military activity that could be affecting whales’ behaviour.

Whale beachings more frequent

In the last decade, 400 whales have been beached along Iceland’s coast. Of those 400, 200 were beached in the last two years alone. Andrés Ingi addressed the incidents last September, inquiring whether sonar from submarines and navy ships could be behind the rise in incidents. He also asked whether the use of sonobuoys, ejected from aircraft or ships to search for submarines, were causing whales (which use sonar to navigate) to become disoriented.

Military information withheld

Andrés Ingi’s enquiry was addressed in a statement from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, which reads “a multinational study is underway to investigate the causes of unusual numbers of bottlenose whale and beaked whale beachings in 2018 on the shores of many countries in the North Atlantic, including here in Iceland. The presence of warships and naval exercises that took place in the summer of 2018 are considered in that regard. However, it has been difficult to obtain information from military authorities.” The statement also remarks that no research has been conducted in Iceland on the effects of marine traffic which uses powerful sonar.

In response to the statement, Andrés Ingi has submitted an inquiry to the Minister for Foreign Affairs asking how often aircraft have taken off from Keflavík Airport to search for submarines in the past five years and how many sonobuoys such planes deploy on average. He also inquires into the frequency, volume, and typical duration of the sonar equipment used in such activities, and whether its effect on marine life, particularly whales, has been researched.

Sonar could disorient

“Anti-submarine aircraft works in such a way that the aircraft flies low over the ocean’s surface and is shooting down buoys that emit sonar signals like whales use to navigate in the ocean,” Andrés stated. “So it could very well be that it has an effect on whales getting lost and coming up on land.”

Andrés Ingi expressed his understanding of the fact that some military information must be kept private, stating, however, “the fundamental question must be something that the government wants to answer. The fact that the navy is shooting down loud buoys around the country which could be herding whales up onto land.”

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