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Naval exercise probable cause of largest dolphin stranding in UK

A scientific analysis of the UK’s largest common dolphin stranding off the coast of Cornwall in 2008 has stated that the most probable cause of the event were naval exercises in the area at the time.

The findings, published in the scientific journal, PLOS ONE refer to the deaths of at least 26 short-beaked common dolphins in Falmouth Bay on 9th June 2008 at the same time international naval exercises were taking place in the area using mid frequency sonar and helicopters. A similar number of dolphins were saved and herded back out to sea.

Examination of the dead dolphins at the time found them in good health with empty stomachs and no evidence of known infectious disease or acute physical injury. The recently published scientific analysis also rules out a number of potential causes or considers them ‘highly unlikely’. These include infectious diseases, collision with a boat, entanglement in fishing nets, attack from orcas or bottlenose dolphins, feeding unusually close to shore immediately prior to stranding, ingestion of harmful toxins, abnormal weather/climatic/tidal conditions and the presence in the area of acoustic surveys for gas and oil.

The analysis suggests that the strandings happened in two stages where a group of dolphins entered Falmouth Bay for some reason and, after three or four days in/around the Bay, a second acoustic/disturbance event occurred causing them to strand in large numbers.

The analysis concludes that an absence of other identifiable factors known to cause strandings of this size would indicate that the naval activity was the most probable cause of the UK’s largest mass dolphin stranding.

Read the report

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.