The recent death of the whale Sotiris (Salvador) after having appeared stranded on a beach in Athens and the appearance of three other disoriented cetaceans on the coast of the island of Corfu has raised alarms about the situation of these mammals in the Mediterranean, a small sea with many resources to offer but also extremely vulnerable.
Sotiris was a specimen of the species of beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), animals that usually live in deep areas and are capable of diving up to 3 kilometers deep, making them very difficult to observe.
Its return to the sea – first successful, but later lethal – captured the attention of public opinion in Greece for days, a country little given to paying attention to environmental information.
A few days later, the alarms went off again when three more beaked whales were found after running aground on the beaches of the west of the Greek island of Corfu, in the Ionian Sea.
Several NGOs rushed to attend to them and, finally, all were returned to the sea in good condition, but the main cause of that scare left no room for doubt for the volunteers: the seismic research ship SW COOK.
This vessel, contracted by the Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) company to explore possible gas and oil deposits in the Ionian Sea, had been emitting powerful underwater acoustic waves for weeks, possibly capable of altering the orientation of the beaked whales, in a wide area near Corfu.
After the incident, 15 organizations sent a joint letter to the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy requesting the immediate cessation of seismic studies in the area, which is also classified as an Important Area for Marine Mammals (IMMA).
In an act that surprised environmentalists, the ministry ordered the temporary cessation of operations, and demanded an “immediate and detailed” report from ELPE and the state company for the Management of Hellenic Hydrocarbon Resources (EDEY) confirming that they were following the guidelines. established environment.
However, as the company EDEY later confirmed to Efe, the tasks of the SW COOK resumed, without prior notice, just one day after receiving the request for the report.
The argument put forward was that there was no link between the exploration of the area and the incident with the whales.
“They tell us that there is no connection with the stranded beaked whales even though they may not know it, there is no report and they do not have scientific evidence of the real impact they are causing,” Kostís Grimanis, an activist member of Greenpeace, told Efe.
EDEY attributed the disorientation of these whales to the Olympia Euroferry fire, which occurred two days earlier north of Corfu, or to the possible use of sonar during military maneuvers in the area, something that has been shown in the past to cause similar phenomena.
In fact, the same day that the three beaked whales were found, NATO began the DYNAMIC MANTA 2022 military exercises in the Ionian Sea, anti-submarine exercises that require the use of powerful sonars.
Hydrobiologist Anastasía Milíu, scientific director of the “Archipélagos” Institute for Marine Conservation, believes that both the presence of SW COOK and NATO military maneuvers could be the cause of the animals’ disorientation.
“The most appropriate thing would be to carry out an investigation to verify the true causes of what happened. Until then, seismic explorations should be suspended as a preventive measure”, comments Milíu. “The animals that appear stranded are just the tip of the iceberg, we don’t know how many more die directly from marine noise. What is clear is that we are not prepared to deal with this type of situation, we need better facilities to treat these animals”, adds the hydrobiologist.
The “Archipelagos” Institute plans to soon inaugurate a marine mammal sanctuary on the Greek island of Lipsi, in the Aegean, which will focus on the rescue and rehabilitation of these species.
However, experts agree that prevention is always better, and that means reinforcing the legal protection of the areas where marine mammals are concentrated, both in territorial and international waters.
For this reason, the eyes of many marine biologists are now focused on the fourth and final round of negotiations of the Global Ocean Treaty, which will begin on Monday at the United Nations headquarters and could contribute to improving the legal situation of these areas.
Posted by EFE