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Whales stranded on Corfu; 15 NGOs call for end of seismic surveys in the Ionian Sea

The Greek branches of Greenpeace and WWF and a number of marine life protection organizations have sounded alarm as three whales stranded on the island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea. The incident took place in the last few days and it coincides with the operation of the seismic research vessel SW Cook in the area.

Fifteen environmental organizations are calling for the end of the ongoing seismic surveys aiming to detect oil and natural gas in the area as they link them directly to the disorientation of marine mammals warning of huge damages to the marine life.

The Ionian Sea is home of the Zifios whales since thousands of years. Marine life Protection organizations are concerned that more mammals are stranded and possibly died without anyone noticing.

On Wednesday, members of the Greenpeace launched a protest on the NGO’s vessel Rainbow Warrior off the island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea.

Stranded Whales

The first two whales -Ziphius cavirostris- stranded in the shallow waters of Arillas and Agios Gordios on the NW and SW of Corfu on Sunday, a third one stranded on Agios Gordios a day later.

Volunteers and rescuers from the marine life protection NGOs  as well as locals who had spotted the mammal helped them return to the deep sea.

Mobilized was also the Ministry of Environment and Energy, while specialized veterinarians of the Hellenic Center for Marine Mammal Rescue and Care “Arion” and the Institute of Marine Protection “Archipelagos” rushed to the spot to examine the animals and take blood samples for laboratory analysis.

End good, all good?

Definitely not. The whales were “clinically healthy” but why were they stranded? The whales had similar symptoms and were heavily disoriented. Marine protection NGOs blame the seismic research in the area and the intense underwater noise caused by the navy sonar frequencies

According to a statement issued by “Archipelagos“:

In no case can it be considered a coincidence that, on the same day, the two whales were found on the shores of Corfu at a short distance (approximately 25 km)” seismic surveys were carried out by the seismographic ship SW Cook, that has been active in the area since the beginning of February.

“Based on international experience with numerous cases of stranded species, it is widely accepted that the main threat to Zifi is intense underwater noise, either from specific navy sonar frequencies or from strong “sound bursts” caused by seismic surveys.

This sudden and intense noise pollution pushes the Zifios to abruptly emerge from the deep waters, causing them symptoms similar to those seen in divers, with the frequent result of their death.”

On the day the whales stranded  the SW Cook followed a northern route from Kefalonia to Corfu and then made a 180-degree reversal in the middle of Corfu, near the area where the whales’ eruptions took place, Archipelagos denounced..

Throughout this course to this day – a day later (February 21,- the ship maintains a constant speed of 4 miles, so it continues uninterruptedly the loud sound explosions.

At the same time, a second seismic ship, the Norwegian Geo Barents, was also sailing in international waters off Corfu, off the coast of Albania to southern Italy, but it is not yet known if and in which areas it used its seismographic equipment, the NGO noted.

SW COOK vs Rainbow Warrior
screenshot from vessels position on February 22, 2020.
Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior is closely monitoring the SW COOK that operates on behalf of the Hellenic Petroleum, even though at safety distance of some half nautical mile.

On social media, Greeks posted that the two are playing cat and mouse in the area.

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