Northern Ireland news

Whale deaths now a 'crisis' after more found on Irish coast

Seven Cuvier's beaked whales have now been found dead along Ireland's north west coast. Picture by Gareth and Amanda Doherty
Seamus McKinney

Wildlife experts are now describing the deaths of whales off the Irish coast as a “local crisis” after more were washed ashore yesterday.

Seven Cuvier’s beaked whales have been washed ashore along Ireland’s Atlantic coast – including three in County Donegal – in the last week. The third whale to be washed up on Donegal shores was found at Pollen Beach in Inishowen yesterday morning. Earlier this week whales were washed up on Sheephaven Bay and Gola Island as well as County Mayo.

Experts believe the use of military sonar is the most likely cause of the unprecedented number of deaths. However, an exact cause of deaths cannot be found as post mortem examinations cannot be carried out on the huge mammals as they are in such a badly decomposed state when washed ashore.

Mick O’Connell of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said wildlife watchers expected more deaths to be reported in the coming days. Mr O’Connell told the Irish News the “best guess” cause of death was underwater noise pollution.

The wildlife expert said the situation on Ireland’s west coast could now be described as a “local crisis.” He said little was known about the Cuvier’s beak whales other than that they were a “deep diving species” which lived in small pods.

Mr O’Connell’s IWDG colleague, Dr Simon Berrow said loud underwater “man-made noise” caused problems for the Cuvier’s beaked whales which are normally found 50 km (31 miles) off the Irish coast.

Following the initial deaths, the Royal Navy said there was no evidence attributing the problem to naval sonar operations, trials or exercises.

The IWDG has urged anyone who spots dead whales on the shore or in the water to notify them through their website at www.iwdg.ie.

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