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Marine Science



Norway urged to abandon plans to experiment on captured whales. WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and NOAH, Norway’s largest NGO for animals, are urging the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) to revoke its approval of a potentially cruel and dangerous experiment involving wild minke whales.  The research aims to use captured minke whales off Vestvågøy in the Lofoten area of northern Norway to study how the whales’ brains respond to ocean noise.

According to a permit issued by Mattilsynet, the project is expected to begin next month, last for several weeks, and restart in 2022.  A mile-wide net will be used to herd individual migrating juvenile minke whales into an enclosure, trapping them inside.  The researchers will then force these whales to move into a small, modified aquaculture cage by securing them between two rafts.  Once the whales are cornered in the cage, the researchers will try to measure their brain waves to determine how they might react to naval sonar and noise from oil and gas exploration.  Whales could be held captive for as long as four days before being released. The permit allows for as many as 12 whales to be captured during the experiment.

“This research project is alarming for several reasons,” said Dr. Siri Martinsen, veterinarian with NOAH. “We are very concerned for the welfare of the involved whales, as these circumstances are very likely to cause them stress and may even impact their health.  There is a significant risk that the whales will panic once they are trapped, causing them to thrash or flail about, which could lead to serious injuries as they attempt to flee.”

“If a minke whale, even a juvenile, were to respond with great force, it also could be extremely dangerous for the human researchers,” added Susan Millward, director of AWI’s marine programme. “Since whale reactions can be unpredictable, we believe that these researchers — particularly those in the water — will be at risk of serious injury. It is simply not worth taking a chance, particularly when existing research already tells us how baleen whales are affected by ocean noise.”

The researchers have proposed using sedation to calm whales who display signs of stress, and will even go as far as stunning them in emergency situations.

Vanesa Tossenberger, policy director with WDC, cautioned that:

“little is known about sedating or stunning wild whales, and it is therefore rarely attempted.  From the available data relating to baleen whales such as these, it could be life-threatening.”

The animal welfare and conservation groups are also concerned about the potential impacts to other species, including marine mammals and seabirds that could become entangled in the various nets used to cordon off the research area.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact Mattilsynet immediately, and demand that the agency halt its plans.

WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, lobbying, advising governments, conservation projects, field research, and rescue. whales.org

NOAH, Norway’s largest animal rights organisation, was founded in 1989 and is based on the principle that all animals deserve freedom and respect. NOAH is working against animal exploitation in the farming industry, entertainment industry, in laboratory research, and more by spreading information to the public, arranging protests, lobbying, and campaigning. The organisation is also dedicated to protection and conservation of wild animals. https://www.dyrsrettigheter.no/noah/noah-for-animal-rights/

The Animal Welfare Institute (www.awionline.org) is a non profit charitable organisation founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.