The Aegean Sea has seen a “very unusual” spike in dolphin deaths over the past few weeks, a Greek marine conservation group said Monday.
The Archipelagos Institute said while it’s still unclear what caused the deaths, the spike followed Turkey’s largest-ever navy drills in the region — the Feb. 27-March 8 “Blue Homeland” exercises that made constant use of sonar and practiced with live ammunition.
Fifteen dead dolphins have washed up on the eastern island of Samos and other parts of Greece’s Aegean coastline since late February, the group said.
Its head of research, Anastassia Miliou, told The Associated Press that 15 is a worryingly high number compared to “one or two” in the same period last year.
The deafening noise of sonar, used by warships to detect enemy submarines, can injure dolphins and whales, driving them to surface too fast or to beach themselves — with sometimes fatal consequences — as they try to escape the underwater din.
After several mass beachings of whales, NATO adopted a code of conduct for using sonar to better protect marine mammals.
“With these giant exercises ... strain is placed on the entire marine ecosystem, including fish and plankton, because they cause intense noise pollution from which marine life can’t escape,” she said.
Miliou also said the Aegean “can barely handle” other strains humans are putting on the sea, such as pollution, overfishing and heavy marine traffic.