This week, a Greek marine conservation group is reporting a “very unusual” spike in dolphin deaths in the Aegean Sea. The deaths coincide with military drills in the area. Researchers want to know whether nearby countries are following international rules about sonar and other undersea noise-makers.
Fifteen dead dolphins have washed up on Greece’s Aegean coastline since late February. The head of research at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, Anastassia Miliou, believes that 15 is a disturbingly high number compared to “one or two” in the same period last year.
Institute researchers say it’s unclear what caused the deaths. However, they know the spike followed Turkey’s largest-ever navy drills in the region—the February 27-March 8 “Blue Homeland” exercises. The maneuvers used sonar and practiced with live ammunition.
The deafening noise of sonar, used by warships to detect enemy submarines, can injure God’s undersea creatures. Such loud sounds can drive dolphins and whales to surface too fast or beach themselves as they try to escape the noise.
“We can’t say that the Turkish exercises killed the dolphins, but the fact that we had such an unusual increase in the number washed up dead . . . coincided with exercises that used more than 100 ships,” Miliou says. She adds that the noise from such “giant exercises” harms “the entire marine ecosystem.”
After previous whale beachings, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adopted a code of conduct for using sonar to better protect marine mammals. Both Greece and Turkey belong to NATO.
Miliou says NATO’s rules are respected by the U.S. and Greek navies, but that it’s unclear whether Turkey is following the guidelines. She says the Aegean “can barely handle” overfishing, heavy marine traffic, and pollution in its waters—let alone sonic booms.
(Members of Archipelagos Institute inspect a dead dolphin at Samos Island, Aegean Sea, Greece. Anastassia Miliou /Archipelagos via AP)