Stranded Whales Prompt Greece to Pause Seismic Blasts

Authorities in Greece will reportedly pause seismic surveys in the Ionian Sea near Corfu after multiple whales were found beached in recent days.

Between February 20 and February 21, Greece's Ministry of the Environment and Energy reported three instances of whales having to be rescued after becoming stranded off the coast of Corfu.

The type of whale in all cases was the Cuvier's beaked whale, also called Ziphius cavirostris. They are considered protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

On February 20, the Greek Environment Ministry said one such whale had gotten stuck off of the Corfu coast and had to be taken back into deeper waters with the help of volunteer rescuers. Another individual was found on another part of the island as well, which was also reportedly returned to deeper waters with the help of local divers and volunteers.

The following morning, another member of the species was found stuck in shallow waters just 500 meters away from where one of the whales had been found the previous day. Again, local rescue teams relocated the animal back to deeper waters.

The ministry said it had stepped up patrols in the area in case any further strandings occurred.

On Friday, local news outlet Greek Reporter reported that the country had announced a temporary stop of seismic surveys in the sea after the spate of whale strandings.

It's believed that seismic surveys being conducted by a nearby ship to locate oil and gas under the sea could be linked to the strandings, the news outlet stated. The ministry is said to have requested immediate information about the surveys from ELPE Upstream, the company behind them.

Seismic surveys are known to have harmful and potentially fatal effects on marine life. In a seismic survey, compressed air is blasted into the deep ocean using airguns and the resulting noise can be used to map the seabed.

Many marine species rely on sound for key life functions such as communication, orientation or locating prey. There has been strong evidence that seismic survey noise, which can be recorded thousands of miles away from its source, can interfere with the lives of these animals.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that for marine life, a seismic blast "is like a bomb repeatedly going off in their home every 10 seconds—a home they can't flee."

Newsweek has contacted Greece's Ministry of the Environment and Energy for comment.

The issue of dead whales has become a big one on the U.S. West Coast in recent years with hundreds of individuals being found dead in the region since 2019. While it had not been possible to identify the cause of death for all of them, several appeared to be abnormally thin or weak.

Meanwhile California was recently reported to be a world hotspot for shark strandings, with pathogens in the water potentially a contributing factor.

Beaked whale
A stock photo shows a Cuvier's beaked whale in the Gulf of Genoa, Ligurian Sea. A number of Cuvier's beaked whales have been found stranded off the Greek coast recently. HeitiPaves/Getty