Scotland

Whales Begin To Be Herded Back To Sea Ahead Of Exercise Joint Warrior

Whales are particularly sensitive to underwater sounds, with rescuers hoping to herd the mammals out of Loch Long and back to sea.

Boats are being used in an attempt to herd a pod of northern bottlenose whales back to sea before one of Europe’s largest military exercises begins off the Scottish coast.

The British Divers and Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) medics have been monitoring whales in and around the River Clyde, ahead of Exercise Joint Warrior later this month, which will mainly take place in the far north.

One vessel will be at Faslane for the exercise, however.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) alerted the BDMLR to the Joint Warrior and, as whales are particularly sensitive to underwater sounds, the rescuers have begun to move the mammals before the exercise starts.

Joint Warrior is held twice a year and is directly linked with the NATO Military Training Exercise Programme.

BDMLR tweeted on Thursday afternoon: "The first group of boats are in position and gently moving the whales towards the mouth.

"They will form a barrier with boats in position to prevent the animals turning in the wrong direction.

"The shore-based teams are monitoring all movement."

A spokesperson added: "There is no guarantee it will be successful given the depth of water and distance that needs to be covered, so will be undertaken with as much care as possible."

HMS Queen Elizabeth will take part in the military exercise, with more warplanes than ever embarking on the aircraft carrier (Picture: Royal Navy).

A pair of whales was first seen in Loch Goil, before then being spotted at the mouth of the Clyde near the Isle of Cumbrae.

Since then, five whales have been seen in separate locations.

The rescue team, along with the MOD, has been carrying out routine monitoring of the whales to avoid disturbing them.

The BDMLR said they are "very grateful" for all the support from local residents and boat operators, as well as the MOD, who will be joining their rescue boat coming from Fife to carry out the operation.

"All we can do now is wish everyone involved the very best and hope for a positive outcome."

Nicola Hodgins from Whale and Dolphin Conservation told Forces News why military exercises can be so disruptive for the animals.

"The issue with military exercises is that they use sonar," she said.

"The sonar is going to emit a huge amount of sound into the marine environment. It is very loud and long term.

"Whales and dolphins are very much auditory animals, their primary force is their hearing."

The mammals use echo location to find food.

However, there are potentially more damaging issues for those who may escape the herd.

Nicola explains whales have been known to rush to the surface when they have been feeding at depth.

"They can then they get what is called bends"  which can cause auditory damage and is similar to divers getting nitrogen narcosis.

"There is also an issue of vessel strikes as whales and dolphins, when surfacing don’t necessarily hear the vessels above," she added.

Frigates from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France and Portugal are to arrive in Glasgow prior to joining Joint Warrior, although only one is due to be at Faslane during the exercise.

Bottlenose whale in Clyde
The operation to herd the mammals back to sea is already underway (Picture: Steve Truluck).

HMS Queen Elizabeth is also taking part, with more warplanes than ever before embarking on the Royal Navy aircraft carrier ahead of the exercise.

A UK-led NATO Carrier Strike Group involving the Queen Elizabeth-class ship has also began forming ahead of the exercise.

HMS Queen Elizabeth's Carrier Strike Group has started forming ahead of a multinational exercise next week.

Exercise Joint Warrior will see thousands of personnel gather off the coast of Scotland, and runs from 4 October to 15 October, with 10 NATO allies, and one non-NATO nation, taking part.

In total, 28 warships, two submarines, 81 aircraft and more than 6,000 personnel will take part in training off the east, west and north coasts of Scotland.

Cover image: Northern bottlenose whales in the River Clyde (Picture: Steve Truluck).