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Cruel experiments on minke whales in Norway

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The WCA is horrified that inhumane experiments on minke whales in Norway, which we opposed last year, have now restarted for a second season.

What do the experiments involve?

The joint US-Norwegian project aims to trap juvenile minke whales using large nets strung across two islands in the Lofoten area of northern Norway, part of the minkes’ annual migration route.

Once they’re captured, the whales will be held in place at a modified fish farm, where electrodes will be implanted under their skin to measure their response to ocean noise. Finally, the whales will be satellite tagged and released, after enduring the experiments for up to six hours and being trapped for as long as four days.

We have serious concerns for the safety and welfare of the young whales, who we believe are likely to experience significant levels of stress, with potentially long-term or life-threatening impacts.

Photo of a minke whale breaching by WCA Partner Elding.

Who’s behind the experiments?

The project is being funded by the US and Norwegian governments, the US Navy and Norwegian defence agency, and the oil and gas industries – all responsible for producing marine noise pollution, which is harmful to cetaceans.

Since these tests would be illegal in US waters, it’s possible that the US federal government is ‘offshoring’ the research to Norway to evade their own stricter laws on animal welfare.

Although the threat of noise pollution is an important issue, we believe that the unnatural conditions of these experiments mean that they’re extremely unlikely to result in any useful data, making it impossible to justify the risks from a scientific and conservation viewpoint.

Research is already available to tell us how noise from sonar and seismic testing is harming cetaceans. The millions of US dollars that are thought to have been spent on this cruel project would be put to better use developing engineering solutions for noise reduction instead.

What are the dangers to the whales?

A recent press release from the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF), the US organisation leading the experiments, claims that their team will “carefully and safely perform [the] catch-and-release studies”.

However, this overlooks the disposition of minke whales, who tend to be naturally skittish and react to confinement with distress. If the minkes panicked and acted forcefully, this could put both themselves and the researchers in danger.

The trauma of being restrained for so long could even cause the whales to suffer from capture myopathy, a potentially fatal condition brought on by extreme stress or struggling – in other words, they could die of fright.

Although the project has authorisation to sedate the whales in an emergency, this is a very high-risk process, since little is known about the effects of sedation on cetaceans.

The NMMF also claims that “no long-term effects are expected” – in contradiction with a previous statement from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (who approved the project), which determined that the whales are “likely to experience short-term moderate pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting mild pain, suffering or distress.”

We believe that these are dangerous underestimates and that the risk of injury and stress to the whales is simply unacceptable.

Photo of a minke whale by Karl Heinz Muller, via Unsplash.

Are there any other risks?

As well as having serious safety and welfare implications for the young whales being held, the experiments are also dangerous for other marine life.

It’s possible that ‘non-target’ species could swim into the nets used to trap the minkes, raising the concern that other marine mammals, fish and birds could become entangled.

We’re not yet aware of any assessment or regulatory compliance to prove that the research team has taken this risk into account or that appropriate action will be taken in the case of an entanglement.

Our response and how you can help

We’ve written a letter to the Norwegian prime minister, on behalf of the WCA and our global Partners, to raise our concerns about these inhumane tests and call for them to be ended immediately.

We’re also supporting our friends at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) in their campaign to #StopWhaleTesting. Please help by using this form on WDC’s website to send a message of protest to the Norwegian prime minister.

We need to make it clear that these experiments are unacceptable and must be stopped now.

Header photo of a minke whale by Jemma Craig, via Getty Images.

Miki Tillett
Author: Miki Tillett

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