AWI urges the United States to withdraw its support and end the study before any more whales are injured or killed
Washington, DC—A controversial US-backed research study that aimed to capture whales in northern Norway and test how they would respond to ocean noise has resulted in the death of a minke whale, the Norwegian Defense Research Institute announced today.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), in cooperation with NOAH, Norway’s largest NGO for animals; WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation); and other global whale experts, has repeatedly implored agencies in Norway and the United States to rescind research permits and funding for the project, given its potential to harm whales.
On June 3, the test site was reportedly damaged during the night by powerful winds and strong tidal currents. When the researchers went to inspect the damage, they discovered that a minke whale had gotten stuck under one of the barrier nets and drowned. As a result, the project is on hold.
“This experiment has been an accident waiting to happen from the start, and a gross misuse of US taxpayer dollars,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant for AWI. “Placing a nearly mile-long net in an area known to be frequented by whales, and leaving it in place for weeks on end all but guaranteed that a whale would become entangled. Poor weather should be no excuse here; the possibility that winds and currents could have damaged the test site should have been taken into account during the permitting process.”
AWI has contended that Norway, a whaling nation, was likely chosen as the location for this study in an effort to circumvent safeguards under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act that might have prohibited such an invasive, dangerous, and questionable project.
The study involved blocking a passageway between islands with the net and herding individual migrating juvenile minke whales into an aquatic pen, trapping them inside. The researchers would then attempt “auditory evoked potential” testing, placing electrodes on the whale to measure brain waves for up to six hours to determine how the animal might react to active naval sonar and noise from the renewable energy sector and seismic exploration conducted by the oil and gas industry. Blood samples would also be taken to test for stress markers.
The multi-year study, funded by Norway’s Defense Research Establishment, the US Navy and other US government agencies, as well as the energy sector, has been fraught with problems since it began in 2021. The first year, a minke was trapped in the net for eight hours before escaping, with no reported follow-up on the animal’s condition. One year later, a juvenile minke that was captured in the aquatic cage had to be released because the whale became extremely stressed and vomited.
Given that the researchers have failed for three years to obtain any data, subjected several whales to the stress of being herded into a large net enclosure, and now caused the death of a whale, AWI and its partners call on US and Norwegian officials to immediately and permanently shut down this project.
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.