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Norway urged to abandon noise pollution experiment on whales

An international group of scientists has called on Norway to abandon its plan to conduct sound trials on tiny whales. Scientists say capturing whales and exposing them to noise would be a “stressful and frightening” process for the animals.

An international group of scientists has called on Norway to abandon its plan to conduct sound trials on tiny whales. Scientists say capturing whales and exposing them to noise would be a “stressful and frightening” process for the animals.

The project, which will be the biggest experiment ever implemented in this field, is scheduled to start today. Norwegian officials say their goal is to better understand at what level whales can hear noise pollution. Trials will be held on the Lofoten Islands.


The goal is to get 12 young minke whales into a pond with the help of giant nets. Local observers say these preparations seem okay. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority, which approved the project, says that each whale will be kept in this pool for a maximum of 6 hours.

Whales will be blood tested here and electrodes will be placed under their skin to measure their hearing. In the statement made, it is noted that this can be done “by putting the whales to sleep if necessary”.

But officials say there is data showing that minke whales, when caught in a net, stand completely still until they are released, pointing out that the procedures can be done without the need for anesthesia.

They also say the whales “are not subject to high levels of noise, but aim to determine the minimum level of sound they can hear”.

It is planned to monitor the behavior of the whales after the experiment by placing a satellite tracking device on their dorsal fins before they are released.

WILL Whales Suffer?

It is officially recognized that whales will feel pain when held between rafts, especially when their hearing is being tested. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority says the experiment will be “moderate” and describes it as:

“Experiments in animals that likely produce short-term moderate pain, distress, and stress, or longer-term mild pain, distress, and stress.”

The agency also says such experiments “are likely to cause moderate deterioration in the general health and condition of the animals.” However, it is noted that the experiment was approved, noting that a better understanding of how marine animals are affected by noise pollution will ultimately benefit minke whales and other species.


In an open letter to the Norwegian Prime Minister, 50 scientists from different countries objected to the experiment’s assessment that it would cause “moderate pain and distress” in animals.

“This process can cause serious stress and increasingly panic in the whale and pose a danger to both whales and humans,” the scientists said.

Experts also argued that exposing young minke whales to the risk of drugging is unacceptable:

“We are concerned that the forcible restraint and experimentation of young minke whales, which can take up to 6 hours, is likely to have significant potential for injury and stress to the animal, as well as lasting effects.”

After expressing their concerns, the experts noted that the experiment should be abandoned because it will cause serious trauma to the whales that will be the subject of the experiment and will not contribute to science. Sarah Dolman, policy manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is among those who signed the letter.

Dolman told the BBC that the threat of noise pollution is often underestimated, with many studies showing that mass strandings of whales are associated with it.

However, Dolman said that all this cannot be a reason to ignore ethical and scientific concerns about the impact of the planned experiment on whales:

“They’ll be forced to venture out of their natural environment, surrounded by people. I think this would be incredibly stressful and frightening for the whales, and I want the experiment stopped. It’s too risky.”

Dolman also reminded that a similar experiment was conducted on two white-mouthed dolphins in Iceland, but the female was released after she was under too much stress.


Scientists from the National Marine Mammal Foundation in the USA planned the experiment. The experts involved in the study left the BBC’s questions unanswered.

The US news outlet NPR reported that some organizations such as the US Navy, the Ocean Energy Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration financed the research.

This indicates the desire of both the defense industry and the oil and gas industry to better understand the impact of underwater drilling or weapons used on animals.


The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of News2Sea.

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