30 June 2015

Explosions Did Not Killed Pilot Whales in Scotland

The recently released study (link) that says the 39 pilot whales that stranded at Scotland's Kyle of Durness on 22 July 2011 were injured by explosions set off by the Royal Navy was written by folks with little knowledge of pilot whales or the marine environment. The study was deceptive.

But before I start, let me say that I am not defending the Royal Navy. I would love to blame a stranding on them; however, as the title of my blog says, I am an advocate for the truth about why whales strand. You can find more about my truth campaign at:  http://deafwhale.com/scientists-lie-about-whale-strandings/

Here Are the Facts:

Pilot whales are a pelagic (deep water) species that primarily feed of the squid that breed and lay their eggs along various mid-ocean ridge systems around the world. Mid-ocean ridges are the most seismically active places on Earth. This means that the first question the study should have address is what was this pod of 39 pilot whales doing a few kilometers offshore near Carvie Island. The authors never brought up the question; however, they did report that the stomachs of the whales were empty. This indicates that the whales have not been diving and feeding for 2-3 weeks before they beached themselves. This fact suggest that the whales might have suffered a diving-related pressure injury due to seismic activity along the mid-ocean ridge that serves as their primary habitat.

The authors supposedly brushed aside an undersea earthquakes by falsely declaring that the only quake that could possibly be associated with this stranding was magnitude 3.5 event that occurred 6 days before the standing but was too far away with a land barrier between the earthquake and the stranding site. However, there never was a 3.5 magnitude event six days before the stranding. Furthermore, in all my 50 years of study strandings caused by earthquakes, I have never found a 3.5 quake as a possible cause. Such events are too weak. The minimum quake that might injure a pod of whales is 4.7 magnitude event focused less than ~5 km below the rock/water interface.

One other point, earthquake-injured whales use spyhopping to stay off the beach for 2-3 weeks after their injury. They don't usually beach until after dehydration, lack of food, and severe stress has weakened them, and then the stranding usually occurs at night during a strong tidal inflow when spyhopping is not so effective. The sharks that dog these injured pods also play a big part in causing them to swim into shallow water.

Rather than an explosion near shore one day before the beaching, my research indicates that these pilot whales suffered the loss of their biosonar system as a result of sinus barotrauma induced by a nasty series of undersea earthquakes that occurred on the Reykjanes Ridge, 50 km north of where the ridge intersects with the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone.

The following earthquakes caused this beaching. If you examine the scientific data at the links below, you will see that the last 2 events were vertical thrusting--the most whale-dangerous types of earthquakes.

M 5.1 - Reykjanes Ridge

53.463°N 35.305°W
9.0 km

M 5.1 - Reykjanes Ridge

53.434°N 35.293°W
10.0 km

M 4.7 - Reykjanes Ridge

53.436°N 35.271°W
9.4 km

This area in noted for its large population of pilot whales. In fact, I have found a whale-dangerous earthquakes along the Reykjanes Ridge for every pod of pilot whales that has stranded in Scotland over the last 10 years. Read my short report of Navigation Failure in Beached Whales. It explains why whales beach themselves without using a bunch of scientific nonsense.

And since all stranded whales, dead or alive, are suffering navigation failure, they will always swim downstream in the path of least drag. This means that the source of the sinus barotrauma that destroyed their navigation must be upstream from the site of the beachings. As you can see, this was exactly the condition in July 2011 when the pod swam blindly into the Kyle of Durness.

The way I see this particular event is that the sinuses in each member of the diving pod were injured by one or maybe two of these three earthquakes. Having no sense of direction, they surfaced and huddled close for protection against sharks. They started swimming. The flow of the surface currents point the lost whales downstream straight towards an area about 25 kms off Cape Wrath. From there they continued on until reaching near the Orkney Islands, where lots of pods of pilot whales were driven ashore a few hundred years ago. They arrived here on the 17th of July 2011. The winds were 20 to 30 knots out of the north, setting the surface currents back towards the headlands east of the entrance to the Kyle of Durness, a few kms offshore of the village of Durness. They arrive here on the 20th of July. They would swim in close to shore when the tide came in and move away from shore when the tide reversed itself. At noon on the 21st, they were carried close to shore by the incoming tide. They spyhopped to keep from stranding. They heard the loud bang from the explosives but were protected from a direct hit by the small peninsula that extends out to sea. They had no idea where the blast came from.

Their main concern at this point was the sharks dogging them, waiting to pick off any stragglers. The wind shifted and start blowing from the south about noon on the 21st. The tide was still flowing in towards shore. By about 8 pm, the outflow of the tide had carried them 5-6 kms offshore where they milled around until about 10 pm on the 21st when the tide started to flow back to shore. The wind had shifted again was now out of the northeast setting a slow southwest drift to the surface currents helping the incoming tide guide them into the mouth of Kyle of Durness. When the whales went into the Kyle, the pack of sharks that had been following them ever since their accident, went in behind them. They knew death was near.  By 5 am, the sharks had them penned inside the Kyle. As the tide increased, they kept moving further up the shore to avoid being eaten alive. When the tide started to fall, they were left trapped in the sand.

By the way, no stranding hypothesis is worthy of consideration unless the actions of the pod are connected to the actions of their predators.

One other point for novice, the direction of any wind-driven surface currents in the northern hemisphere is always to the right of the direction of the wind. This is so because the earth is spinning around for west to east.This is called the coriolis effect and would have caused the surface currents to flow to the west. This means that if a lost pod of whales was near the Orkney Islands, the powerful north winds would have set the surface currents flowing towards the stranding site. This would also explain why a number of large cetaceans had been sighted from the headland to the west of Durness on the evening of Wednesday 20th July.

What's Wrong With the Study?

The study authors said, "On 22nd July 2011 approximately 70 long-finned pilot whales entered the Kyle of Durness, a shallow tidal inlet bordering Cape Wrath, Northern Scotland (58°34'52"N 4°48'23"W). As the tide receded at least 39 animals stranded, of which about 20 were subsequently refloated. Nineteen animals were known to have died during the MSE. Sixteen animals, comprising eight males and eight females were recovered for post-mortem examination."

The study found that the cause of this mass stranding was one of five explosions, ranging from 540lb to 1000lb charges set off next to Garvie Island by the Royal Navy on Thursday 21st July, 23 hours before the stranding took place.

If this is true, why did half the pod died right away, but the other half was saved?

Furthermore, the blast supposedly damaged their inner ears and prevented them from navigating but the authors did not examine the cochleas for evidence of damage supposedly because the cochlea deteriorates rapidly after death. On the other hand, the cochleas of odontoceti are surrounded by air and foam contained inside air sacs and sinuses. In fact, excluding the brain and skull, a pilot whale's head is made up of mostly cranial air spaces. These air spaces will be ripped apart by a blast wave long before the cochleas are damaged. However, the study reported that there was no evidence of barotrauma without mentioning the sinuses or air sacs even one time. Nor did they find any evidence of blast injuries.

The sinuses usually lose their air on death so detecting barotrauma is not possible for an untrained team not looking specifically for such injuries.

The study also falsely stated that long-finned pilot whales were highly social and known to follow other pilot whales, therefore the presence of disease or derangement in one may influence the actions of the whole pod. This is the single biggest lie whale rescue people tell to the public.  http://deafwhale.com/scientists-lie-about-whale-strandings/

The authors also reported the stomachs were empty. Several showed refluxed bile in the pyloric (third) stomach. Empty stomachs indicates the pod had not been feeding and therefore does not support the theory that the animals’ presence close to shore was due to hunting or feeding behaviour. Bile in the third stomach can indicate fasting and dehydration. Empty stomachs and lack of fluids is common in mass stranded animals.

Capt. David Williams