Norway halts research that bombards whales with noise after one dies

Minke whale - PA
Minke whale - PA

Norway has abandoned a controversial research project involving bombarding whales with noise after one of the animals died.

Activists criticised the “cruel and pointless” hearing tests on minke whales run by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) with the US National Marine Mammal Foundation each summer since 2021.

The experiments research how much noise humans should be allowed to make in the ocean through, for example, ship traffic, and how much the whales can tolerate.

Juvenile minkes are captured in the Lofoten archipelago where they pass every year on the way to feeding areas further north in the Barents Sea.

They are clamped between two rafts for up to six hours and electrodes are attached to their skin to study how their brains respond to different frequencies of ocean noise before they are tagged and released.

In the night between June 2 and 3, bad weather damaged the testing site, causing a barrier line to break free. A whale became entangled in it and died before the official start of this year’s experiment, which is on hold indefinitely while the incident is reviewed and the site repaired.

It was meant to continue until the summer of 2024 despite objections raised by animal rights campaigners and 50 international scientists.

‘We aim to protect minke whales from human-made noise’

“Our aim is to protect minke whales and other baleens and to protect them from harmful human-made noise,” Petter Kvadsheim, chief researcher at FFI, said.

Mr Kvadsheim blamed the bad weather for the death of the whale. He said he hoped the project, which needed only “a handful” of minkes could resume in the next few days.

Danny Groves, of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “It is exceptionally cruel given how sensitive to sound whales are.

“Bear in mind all cetaceans, including whales, live in a world of sound, unlike us. They use sound to hunt, to navigate and communicate with each other. This simply must be stopped.”

He added: “We have warned that these cruel and pointless experiments would lead to whales being killed and it is sadly ironic that this poor minke has died even before the experiments have got underway.”

One whale entered the testing site in 2021, but it quickly escaped. In 2022, another minke was captured but it was released immediately because it showed signs of stress.

Norway is one of the few countries that still allows the hunting of certain whales.

The FFI denied the whales were being bombarded by noise.  It said  it was a  project funded by the US government, carried out in Norway by a team of international scientists.

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