Chronicle of deaths foretold

It was bound to happen.

Some may recall the futile attempts by representatives of civil society last November, at the Meeting of the Parties of the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic, of ensuring that agencies responsible for the production of noise in the sea capable of causing the death of whales, such as navies and the oil & gas industry, could take advantage of the correct scientific guidance to avoid ensonifying the whales’ critical habitat.

Such attempts were thwarthed by the fierce opposition of some Parties at the meeting, most notably France, Greece and Cyprus, which strongly objected to the adoption of a map showing the critical habitats (“areas of special concern for beaked whales”) where noise should be used with caution, and, if at all possible, avoided.

It did not take long for the effects of this policy – or rather, lack thereof –  to become apparent.  The world has still barely recovered from yesterday’s fantastic news of the ruling of the International Court of Justice against Japan’s scientific whaling in the Antarctic, when we are now subjected to the coldest of showers.

Please read below the message that colleague Alexandros Frantzis from the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute of Athens has just posted on the forum of the European Cetacean Society.

One wonders, why waste time and resources on conservation agreements that are so blatantly disrespected?  And why pick on distant people killing distant whales when we seem unable to avoid whale killing at our doorsteps?


The truth is: the whalers are us



Message sent by Alexandros Frantzis to ECS-TALK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK on April 1st, 2014 at 20:43 Eastern European Time

Subject:  One more atypical mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales in Greece (SE Crete, Hellenic Trench) during military exercise

Dear all,

Once more we have bad news regarding Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Greek Seas. The local population unit, which has repeatedly been affected by naval sonar activity of NATO or of national navies in the past may be steadily heading towards its extinction.

Today 1st April 2014 between 12:00 and 13:30 pm at least five Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded atypically so far in the area of Ierapetra, SE Crete. Three animals stranded together in the same location and two other individuals stranded together some 17 km further west. Two more individuals stranded as single individuals 2.7 km and 500 m further west along the coast, but there is no way to know if these were additional individuals or some of those already stranded earlier. All animals were alive when stranded. One of them died and all other were led offshore by local people and not seen again until now.

After a quick search in the internet we found that the Israeli, Greek and US Navy are conducting a trilateral two-week military exercises in the area of Crete (named Noble Dina 2014). The naval activity includes anti-submarine warfare (ASW), which indicates the use of military sonar, well known as the cause of many mass strandings of Ziphiids around the world.

During their 5th Meeting of the Parties (Morocco, November 2013) the Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Mediterranean and Black Sea (ACCOBAMS) have for first time identified on a map the areas where sonar should be avoided in the Mediterranean Sea, and made this information publicly available. One of these areas on the map is SE Crete where the new mass stranding occurred.

A bit earlier we contacted competent Greek authorities including the Greek focal point of ACCOBAMS to inform them about the new mass stranding and to request their intervention, so that no use of military sonar is made during the exercise today and following days. The port-police authorities and local volunteers have been alerted and we just hope that tomorrow we won’t find more animals along the coasts.

How many more whale deaths to spark real mitigation at the regional and international level?

Best wishes,


Dr. Alexandros Frantzis 
Scientific director 
Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute 
Terpsichoris 21 
16671 Vouliagmeni, 
Tel.: +30-210-8960108 

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