The photo that the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki published, depicting stranded whales along the south-east shores of Crete has brought forth a great deal of concern. According to the local environmental organizations, a NATO naval exercise is most likely responsible for this incident.
In particular, this naval exercise is named Operation Noble Dina and is ongoing in the area, involving US, Greek and Israeli forces.
One of the ongoing areas of contention between environmental advocates and the US Navy and federal regulators is whether sonar training (and naval live-fire and explosion exercises creating loud and potentially harmful noise) should be planned to avoid areas with known concentrations of marine mammals, especially those, such as beaked whales, known to be sensitive to noise. As it turns out, the area of this stranding is one of a large number of areas recommended as Areas of Special Concern for beaked whales by that the Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS (Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black and Mediterranean Seas, a consortium of governments in the region). As reported by a long-time chair of the Scientific Committee, the recommendation fell on deaf ears when presented to the full ACCOBAMS meeting of the parties last year; military preparedness was the explicit reason for the rejection.
For Greece, none of this is new. In 1996 and again in 1997, dozens of beaked whales of the same species turned up along the Peloponnesian coast; in 2011, they were stranded on the island of Corfu as well as the east coast of Italy, across the Ionian Sea. In each case, navies were training with high-powered sonar in the area. Indeed, according to the Smithsonian Institution and International Whaling Commission, every beaked whale mass stranding on record everywhere in the world has occurred with naval activities, usually sonar, taking place in the vicinity.
Now experts are despairing that with many consecutive strandings, the region’s beaked whale populations are being decimated.