Royal Navy bomb explosions ‘caused mass pilot whale stranding’
Nineteen whales died at Kyle of Durness in July 2011, a day after the Navy blew up three bombs nearby.
The Royal Navy is likely to have caused a mass whale stranding by detonating underwater bombs, government scientists have said.
Nineteen whales died at Kyle of Durness in July 2011, a day after the Navy blew up three 1000lb bombs at nearby Cape Wrath. A fourth bomb was detonated on the morning of the stranding.
A long-delayed report released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released on Wednesday said the blasts were the “only event with the potential to cause the stranding”.
It said the noise from the explosions could have damaged the whales' hearing and ability to navigate.
The report concluded: “Once the pod was within the Kyle of Durness, navigational error would definitely be a contributing factor to live stranding.
“Munitions disposal operations conducted in the vicinity the day before and during the stranding was the only external event with the potential to cause the stranding.
“The magnitude, frequency and proximity of the multiple detonations in the day prior to the stranding, and the single high order detonation shortly after the beginning of the mass standing were plausible sources of significant disturbance to any neighbouring marine mammals.
“It is probable that the presence of a potentially compromised animal, navigational error in a topographically complex region and the serial detonation of underwater ordnance were the most influential factors in this mass stranding event.”
The bombs were left over from military exercises where planes target Garvie Island, a rocky outcrop less than three miles from the Kyle of Durness. Bombs which miss the island and sink to the seabed have to be disposed of for safety reasons.
Seventy long-finned pilot whales swam into the Kyle of Durness on July 22, 2011. Twenty of the 39 stranded whales were refloated in the shallow inlet with help from the coastguard.
Scientists found that before the stranding “all indicators suggested the pod was healthy, in good body condition”.
Defra has made a series of recommendations to the Royal Navy, including asking it to consider deploying acoustic monitoring equipment in the waters around Garvie Island.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), added: “The MoD accepts the findings of the Durness Mass Stranding report which identified a number of possible factors that may have influenced events, one of which was the detonation of underwater explosives.
“The recommendations will be considered by the MoD and implemented where appropriate. Additional mitigation has already been put in place during munitions disposal activities conducted since 2011.”
The Royal Navy said munitions have been disposed at Garvie island for decades without incident. There is no record of other strandings in the area.
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