Russia Navy Blasts May Have Killed a Dozen of World's Deepest Diving Whales

Russian Navy blasts may have killed a dozen of the world's deepest diving whales, a report has claimed.

Between February 9 to 13 this year, a total of 12 dead Cuvier's beaked whales washed ashore on the island of Cyprus—seven in the south and five in the north.

A report carried out by Cyprus Wildlife Research Institute, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Environment Environmental Protection Department, the Veterinary Department, the Environmental Protection Department, Turkish Marine Research Foundation presented the cause of their death.

According to necropsies of five young whales—two female, three male, ranging in length from 12 feet to 15 feet—the whales died due to acoustic trauma, which caused gas embolism—when air escapes into the blood vessels.

All but one whale was in good condition other than this. Gas bubbles were clearly seen in all of the veins during necropsy, the report said.

It is believed this was caused by naval exercises conducted by forces from the Russian Federation in the ocean at the time. NAVTEX data told scientists that these exercises were taking place around the same time as the whale deaths, and had been firing across large distances in the eastern, southern and western regions.

Dead beaked whale and war ship
A picture shows one of the dead whales found in Cyprus and a war ship. TRAVELARIUM / Arda M. Tonay/ Cyprus Wildlife Research Institute

Arda M. Tonay, an associate professor at Istanbul University's Faculty of Aquatic Sciences and Vice President of Turkish Marine Research Foundation, told Newsweek: "Although the other two are far away, three separate (but same time) Russian naval exercises were seen in February in the eastern Mediterranean. Naturally, we think that the military forces of other countries or alliances in the region are also for monitoring purposes. In other words, there is an unusual [amount of] and too much navy activity in the whole eastern Mediterranean Sea."

Cuvier's beaked whales can dive to depths of at least 3,300 feet. They are found in most oceans and are one of the most commonly sighted beaked whales.

Gas embolism in whales occurs due to a rapid change in their diving behavior, in this situation because they attempted to escape the sound of naval operations.

During the necropsies bleeding was seen around the head and ear canal, indicating that acoustic trauma had been the source.

There were no other indications of a different cause of death—all whales were full of food, proving that starvation had no role.

"There is evidence from Cuvier's beaked whale mass stranding around the world that beaked whales experience acoustic trauma from low and medium frequency sonars used in naval exercises and sound sources used in seismic surveys for oil/natural gas exploration," Tonay said.

Military activities can have a profound effect on surrounding wildlife. In October 2022, a scientist estimated that the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine could have killed up to 50,000 dolphins due to the presence of Moscow's ships and submarines.

"As a precaution, and due to fears of an increase in death toll, all countries should stop all planned/unplanned naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Finike (Anaximander) Seamounts Special Environmental Protection Area, a unique marine ecosystem that supports fragile habitats and vulnerable fauna and flora species," Tonay said.

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Update 3/2/23 ET 7:26 A.M: This article has been updated to mention the Veterinary Department, the Environmental Protection Department, Turkish Marine Research Foundation