The Norwegian Armed Forces’ research institute ends testing of minke whales in Lofoten – NRK

The Norwegian Armed Forces Research Institute, the American authorities and the US Navy are behind the controversial experiments in Lofoten. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has given permission for the project.

After three weeks outside Stamsund, the researchers are now completing the research project for this year – without result. The researchers managed to catch three whales, but two of them were too large for the test equipment and one of them managed to find a hole in the enclosure and escaped.

The Norwegian Defense Research Establishment denies that the project has been a failure.

– We have not quite reached the finish line. That was not the goal of this year’s project either. The plan is to continue until next year. We have come a long way and learned a lot, says chief researcher Petter Kvadsheim at the Armed Forces Research Institute.

Picture of the area where the experiments were performed at Stamsund in Lofoten.

Photo: The Norwegian Armed Forces Research Institute

Knows little about whale hearing

Scientists know almost nothing about the baleen whales’ hearing.

Therefore, they have been given permission to capture and examine the hearing of 12 of the smallest baleen whales, which are minke whales.

– To know which sounds disturb them, we must know which sounds they hear, says Kvadsheim.

Much of the noise at sea is due to boats, industry and defense activity. For marine mammals, sound is an important sense. By making sound and listening, they navigate and communicate with each other.

The researchers have theories that sounds scare the animals away from grazing areas. The animals can also be so frightened that they swim too fast to the surface.

– When we humans conduct military operations, ship traffic or look for oil and gas, we make a lot of noise, which disturbs the whales. Then it is important that we regulate the noise in the best possible way so that we get the least possible negative effect, says Kvadsheim.

Outside Stamsund, the whales walk close to land and navigate between islets and reefs on a trip to the Barents Sea. Therefore, a guide wire several kilometers long was set up right here.

Kvadsheim says that they manage to catch three minke whales in the net. But one does not succeed in having the hearing of any of them tested.

International protests

The whale experiment has attracted international attention. The British major newspaper The Guardian writes about reactions from Canada, Peru, Australia and the United Kingdom.

50 researchers from all over the world and over 60,000 signatures asked the Norwegian authorities to stop a whale experiment in Lofoten.

To no avail.

Astrid Fuchs in Whale & Dolphin Conservation, tells NRK that she now hopes that the experiment will be scrapped, and that the result of the first round was expected.

– Although the whales’ reaction was expected from us, it is disappointing that the researchers did not realize that two of the whales did not fit the project. That one escaped is further proof of the poor setup in these experiments. Hopefully it did not hurt itself.

Fuchs says that they have sent a number of questions to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, to which they are waiting for answers.

– Completely incomprehensible

Chief researcher Petter Kvadsheim characterizes the whale project as a daring experiment. But he does not fully understand the violent protests.

– It is completely incomprehensible to us. Why do animal welfare organizations that work for the animals’ best interests go towards research that aims to protect the animals. If animal rights activists had been present in Lofoten, they would not have found anything to get excited about.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that whales are stressed during testing.

– It is a certain stress, but over a relatively short period of time. According to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the stress outweighs the benefits of gaining this type of knowledge. In this way, it will be possible to manage the entire stock in a good way in the long run.

WHALE EXPERIMENT: The goal of the research project in the Vestfjord is to learn more about whale hearing.

There are a few days left of the test period. The hole where one of the whales managed to escape is closed.

– So far no one was able to send in the perfect solution, which is not strange. We have four years to acquire this important knowledge. During this time, we will have the answers in place, says FFI chief researcher Petter Kvadsheim.

FFI chief researcher Petter Kvadsheim

FFI chief researcher Petter Kvadsheim emphasizes that one should not measure how much sound the whale can withstand, but the smallest sound they can hear. – No whales have been injured, he assures.

Photo: Erlend Astad Lorentzen / Institute of Marine Research

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