• June 27, 2013


It seems highly likely that the largest mass stranding event of dolphins in the British Isles was caused by military activity.

In June 2008 almost 30 short beaked common dolphins beached themselves at Falmouth Bay in Cornwall at the time the Celtic League speculated that the mammals were probably disorientated by sonar activity associated with a major naval exercise which was underway at the time. Now new extremely detailed research has been published which seems to support that theory.
The Celtic League registered concern with the MOD at the time and the issue was also the subject of discussion at the 2008 Celtic League AGM (held that year in Dublin) at which the following resolution was adopted:

¡°This AGM
¡°a) Calls upon the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs to institute
research work to identify and mitigate the damage caused to Marine
Mammals by noise and sonar pollution associated with military exercises
at sea.

b) Calls upon the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Spain,
Portugal and Ireland to acknowledge their obligations under Article
65 – Marine Mammals – United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea and restrict both commercial and military activity which may be
contrary to the spirit of the Convention¡±

Full detail of the new research can be found at the link below:


An abstract of the article is set out below:

¡°What Caused the UK’s Largest Common Dolphin ( Delphinus delphis ) Mass Stranding Event?

On 9 June 2008, the UK’s largest mass stranding event (MSE) of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) occurred in Falmouth Bay, Cornwall. At least 26 dolphins died, and a similar number was refloated/herded back to sea. On necropsy, all dolphins were in good nutritive status with empty stomachs and no evidence of known infectious disease or acute physical injury. Auditory tissues were grossly normal (26/26) but had microscopic haemorrhages (5/5) and mild otitis media (1/5) in the freshest cases. Five lactating adult dolphins, one immature male, and one immature female tested were free of harmful algal toxins and had low chemical pollutant levels. Pathological evidence of mud/seawater inhalation (11/26), local tide cycle, and the relative lack of renal myoglobinuria (26/26) suggested MSE onset on a rising tide between 06¡Ã30 and 08¡Ã21 hrs (9 June). Potential causes excluded or considered highly unlikely included infectious disease, gas/fat embolism, boat strike, by-catch, predator attack, foraging unusually close to shore, chemical or algal toxin exposure, abnormal weather/climatic conditions, and high-intensity acoustic inputs from seismic airgun arrays or natural sources (e.g., earthquakes). International naval exercises did occur in close proximity to the MSE with the most intense part of the exercises (including mid-frequency sonars) occurring four days before the MSE and resuming with helicopter exercises on the morning of the MSE. The MSE may therefore have been a ¡°two-stage process¡± where a group of normally pelagic dolphins entered Falmouth Bay and, after 3¨C4 days in/around the Bay, a second acoustic/disturbance event occurred causing them to strand en masse. This spatial and temporal association with the MSE, previous associations between naval activities and cetacean MSEs, and an absence of other identifiable factors known to cause cetacean MSEs, indicates naval activity to be the most probable cause of the Falmouth Bay MSE.¡±

Links to related articles on Celtic News can be found here:


J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information


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The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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