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Norway Faces Backlash Over ‘Unnecessary’ Whale Hearing Tests

Animals
Norway Faces Backlash Over ‘Unnecessary’ Whale Hearing Tests
A minke whale. Len2040 / Flickr

Norway has come under fire for a controversial plan to test the hearing of minke whales.


The Norwegian plan would see 12 young minke whales captured and subjected to six-hour sound tests. Proponents say the study would help illuminate the impact of noise pollution on whales, but a group of more than 50 conservationists and veterinarians argue that the tests are both cruel and redundant.

"This experiment is both ill-conceived and unnecessary – we already know that human-made noise in our ocean damages and disturbs whales," Whale and Dolphin Conservation policy manager Vanessa Williams-Grey told the Evening Standard. "We have grave concerns about the animal welfare implications."

Whale and Dolphin Conservation wrote to Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg on behalf of more than 50 experts urging her to halt the trials. The group has also promoted a petition for the general public to sign.

Despite this, the tests are set to go ahead, The Guardian reported Tuesday. The plans would see the whales captured in a strait off Vestvågøy island in Norway's northern Lofoten region, an area that is part of the whales' annual migration route. The captured whales would then be held between two rafts for up to six hours while electrodes placed beneath their skin would determine how their brains respond to various types of ocean noise. The whales would then be tagged and released.

The experiments were approved by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) and are being conducted by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment with financial support from the U.S. oil and gas and fishing authorities and the U.S. Navy, according to the Evening Standard. NFSA argued that the experiments would ultimately benefit whales generally.

"Knowledge of how human activity disturbs wild animals will always be to the benefit of the animals. We believe that is also the case here," NFSA told The Guardian.

The agency said that the severity of the experiment would be moderate — causing short-term moderate pain and distress or long-term mild pain and distress. However, in the letter and petition, Whale and Dolphin Conservation warned that the impacts could be much worse.

"These experts say the stress could kill the whales," petition author Vicky Moens wrote. "Even if it doesn't, the ordeal will be dangerous and terrifying for these intelligent and highly sensitive individuals."

The test was originally slated to run from May 15 to June 22 and to repeat next year. However, this year it has been delayed because of bad weather, The Guardian explained. This delay has given testing opponents slightly more time to make their case, though aerial photographs show that mile-long nets meant to corral the whales are already in place.

"I can't believe that this has been allowed in the country that I live in," Moens concluded. "It is beyond cruel and I hope you will sign to tell the Norwegian government that the world is horrified by their actions and we demand that they stop these awful experiments."

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