FREEPORT, Bahamas — Eight whales beached and died soon after the U.S. Navy conducted anti-submarine exercises off the northern Bahamas, prompting an investigation and calls for an end to such exercises.
The Navy said Tuesday that there was no evidence to link the whale deaths to last week's exercise testing sonar detection of submarines.
Navy Cmdr. Greg Smith said the sonar tests took place March 15 off Abaco Island.
Marine biologist Ken Balcomb of the Earthwatch environmental group said beachings began that same day and, within two days, at least 14 whales had grounded themselves on Abaco, Grand Bahama to the west and Eleuthera to the south. Eight died, prompting investigations by Bahamian and U.S. scientists and authorities.
"A whale beaching in the Bahamas is a once-in-a-decade occurrence," said Balcomb, an American who has been studying whales around Abaco for nine years.
"We will be making recommendations to the Bahamian government that these sort of exercises be terminated," he said.
But Smith said the Navy planned to continue such tests.
"There's no suggestion we have, and no scientific data, that the testing that we are doing was in any way linked," Smith said.
Marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose of the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States said that the signals could do damage.
Another U.S. marine biologist here to investigate, Charles Potter of the Smithsonian Institution, said the number of whales beached is "extremely unusual." But he said the post-mortems showed that the whales had suffered no physical damage, such as broken eardrums.
Balcomb said the mammals included several deep-water beaked whales, goose-beaked whales measuring 16 to 19 feet, dense beaked whales measuring 10 to 13 feet, baleen whales measuring up to 27 feet and some small minke whales.
Michael Breynan, director of the Bahamian Fisheries Department, said he was working with U.S. scientists to try to determine the cause.