Highly unusual beaked whale strandings in Cyprus caused by naval exercises

February 28, 2023

Beaked whales, which are a group of deep-diving medium-sized whales, are known to be especially vulnerable to loud human noises. They are rarely seen close to shore and they rarely strand. In recent years, unusual mass strandings of beaked whales around the world have been linked to loud noise events out to sea. Twelve Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded on the coasts of Cyprus between the 9th and the 13th of February this year and a preliminary report based on the examination of their carcasses, which has just been released, points again to loud noise as the cause of their deaths. There were navy exercises, including firing, to the west, east and south of the island on the days when the whales came ashore. The areas where the exercises were conducted included the Finike Seamounts; an areas of high biodiversity, including beaked whales, and declared a protected area by Turkey in 2013.

Some of the whales stranded alive and efforts were made to rescue them but all the animals died. Post mortems were conducted on five of the whales and all but one of them were in good condition and all had been feeding recently, indicating that an acute event was responsible for compromising them.  All also had gas bubbles in their blood showing that they had been forced to come to the surface unusually fast, creating a lethal condition similar to the ‘bends’ (or decompression sickness) seen in human divers coming to the surface too rapidly.

Speculation in the media that the stranding were linked to the recent powerful earthquakes in Turkey and Syria now seems wrong and, as the report notes, no strandings of whales have ever been linked to earthquakes, whereas there is a substantive body of research linking these kinds of strandings to human loud noises and in particular military activities at sea.

The authors of the report called for all planned and unplanned naval exercises to cease. OceanCare supports this call.

The report on the strandings is available here: