PostHeaderIcon Atypical Mass Strandings in the Ionian Sea

Following the atypical mass stranding of Cuvier's beaked whales, Ziphius cavirostris, which occurred on 30 November 2011, on the western shores of the Greek island of Corfu, the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee, based on Resolution 3.10 and 4.17 respectively adopted by the Third (Dubrovnik, 22-25 October 2007) and Fourth Meetings of the ACCOBAMS Contracting Parties (Monaco, 9-12 November 2010), addressed to the Secretariat the following Statement of Concern to be distributed to appropriate authorities and mass media in order to inform the general public about such event and engagement of the Contracting Parties.

Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS

Statement of Concern
about Atypical Mass Strandings
of Beaked Whales in the Ionian Sea

13 February 2012

The Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS is greatly concerned about two atypical mass stranding events that have occurred in the Ionian Sea (in Greece and in Italy) in November and December 2011, involving a minimum of 11 specimens of Cuvier’s beaked whales, Ziphius cavirostris, a species protected under many international agreements (e.g., ACCOBAMS, CMS, Bern Convention, EU Habitats Directive, SPA-BD Protocol to the Barcelona Convention) as well as under national legal instruments.

At present it is not possible to confirm whether or not all these stranding events were caused by human activities. However, a report from Greek scientist Dr. Alexandros Frantzis provides strong evidence that sound from an as yet unknown source, similar to human-generated sounds known to cause atypical beaked whale mass strandings, was generated near the region of one of the strandings off western Corfu.

Based on recommendations from this Scientific Committee, the above waters have been listed in the ACCOBAMS Meeting of Parties (MOP) Resolution 3.22 as of special importance for the common dolphin and other cetaceans. Direct observations and an extensive habitat modeling exercise undertaken by Dr Ana Cañadas for ACCOBAMS (SC7_Doc15) show that the deep marine waters off NW Greece and Southern Albania contain important, possibly critical habitat for Cuvier's beaked whales. Beaked whales are particularly sensitive to sound and in March
2011 the Scientific Committee agreed that beaked whales should not be exposed to a Sound Pressure Level greater than 140 dB re 1 μPa @ 1m in Mediterranean waters deeper than 600 m.

At the Third and Fourth ACCOBAMS MoPs in 2007 (Resolution 3.10) and 2010 (Resolution
4.17) respectively, Resolutions of direct relevance to preventing human-generated noise from jeopardizing the conservation status of protected cetacean species, were adopted by consensus. The most directly relevant elements of these Resolutions (appended in full and summarised below) stress the dangers of underwater noise to cetaceans, especially sensitive species such as beaked whales and urge Parties (and where relevant appropriate IGOs) to:
•    pay particular attention to the management of human activities in the habitats of sensitive species, taking into account cumulative and synergistic effects of activities;
•    inform the ACCOBAMS Secretariat on current and reasonably foreseeable noiseproducing activities occurring under their jurisdiction within the ACCOBAMS area;
•    ensuring that underwater noise is fully taken into account in a precautionary manner when reviewing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for activities that may produce noise, including the provision of precautionary and effective mitigation and monitoring measures;
•    emphasise the need for a provision for expert review of EIAs and associated mitigation and monitoring measures, as well as a provision for the action to be taken if unusual events, such as atypical mass strandings.

In addition, Resolution 4.17 provided guidelines to address the impact of anthropogenic noise on cetaceans in the ACCOBAMS area. These provided explicit indication of measures to be adopted to avoid events such as the recent atypical mass stranding of Cuvier's beaked whales.

It seems clear from these recent events that the Resolution commitments and guidelines have not been fully complied with by all parties. Indeed, the production of high level noise in the waters off western Corfu could be considered as effectively a deliberate take of Cuvier's beaked whales.

The Scientific Committee is extremely concerned at this situation, as should be the Parties. We respectfully but strongly request that as a matter of urgency, all Parties ensure that the mechanisms are in place to comply fully with Resolution commitments, recommendations and guidelines. The effectiveness of ACCOBAMS in meeting its conservation objectives is seriously compromised without such mechanisms.
This includes the provision of information to the Secretariat (and by extension the scientific and conservation community). In particular, to assist in the investigation of these events, it is important to know whether the Secretariat and/or the Parties most concerned by the above stranding events can provide information on:
a)    noise-producing human activities in the area; and if yes:
b)    whether an EIA for such activity exists, was approved and was reported to the ACCOBAMS Secretariat; and if so
c)   the scientific review process for the EIA and details of any mitigation measures (and how these met the ACCOBAMS guidelines) and compliance mechanisms.

Given its extreme concern for the effectiveness of the protection status of Cuvier's beaked whales in the Mediterranean Sea, the Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS reiterates its full commitment and availability to support the Agreement’s conservation efforts, including assisting with the review of cetacean components of EIAs.

ACCOBAMS Resolution 3.10: icone_pdf
ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17: icone_pdf
ACCOBAMS Resolution 3.22: icone_pdf

Last Updated (Tuesday, 03 July 2012 09:41)

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