Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Fri, 10 May 2013 16:47 CDT
© Andre Seale, University of Hawaii; NSF
A school of spinner dolphins. Using state-of-the-art sonar technology, oceanographers have found that spinner dolphins use a highly coordinated technique to herd their prey. This cooperative foraging allows the dolphins to increase the density of the fish they eat by as much as 200 times.
On June 9, 2008, at least 60 dolphins stranded along the coast of Cornwall, England, in what was by far the largest common dolphin mortality ever seen in British waters. For hours, rescuers tried to lead them back to sea - often unsuccessfully, as some of the animals were panicked and others just milled about in tight circles, resistant to saving. The forensic investigation that followed involved 24 experts from five countries and multiple government agencies.
Now their verdict is in
, and the most probable cause was naval exercises.
For several days before the strandings, the British Royal Navy ran a large, multinational event (which included the U.S. Navy and involved active sonar and other disruptive activities) off the Cornish coast. That event, the investigators concluded, was closely correlated in space and time with the dolphins entering Falmouth Bay and eventually coming ashore. All other possible causes - disease, algal blooms, malnourishment - were eliminated.
The implication of naval exercises in a mass stranding will come as no surprise to those who have followed this issue in the United States. Nor will the Royal Navy's perfunctory denials in media accounts, which seem awfully similar to what we have heard over the years from the U.S. Navy.
In the case of mass strandings, what Navy officials always seem to demand after the fact is some definitive, minute-by-minute record of the victims' movements before beaching, as though it were possible to stick a tag on every whale
and dolphin in the sea. Until biologists can provide that infeasible level of proof, the U.S. Navy refuses responsibility. But really, the Cornwall case is simple: a gun was fired, there were bodies, and no one else was in the room.