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Thu Oct 1, 2020, 06:10 PM

Rescuers race to herd whales away from military exercise in Scotland

GARE LOCH, Scotland (Reuters) - Rescuers are racing to herd a group of whales out of a Scottish loch ahead of major military exercises that conservationists fear could distress the giant cetaceans.

The pod of northern bottlenose whales, which can dive to depths of 2,000 metres and rarely visit coastal waters, were first noticed around Loch Goil but then ended up in the Clyde.

Five of the whales - which can grow up to 11.2 metres in length and weigh over 7 tonnes - have been spotted around the Loch Long area and have entered some of the smaller lochs nearby ahead of a military exercise due shortly.
Europe's largest military exercise - Joint Warrior - begins on Saturday with its headquarters at at Faslane naval base next to Gare Loch.


The Gareloch is just on our doorstep, some 20 miles down the River Clyde from Glasgow. We heard this morning that an attempt was going to be made starting around 12.20pm to herd them out of the loch into the Clyde Estuary and deeper, less enclosed waters.

A pod of three to five bottlenose whales has been in the Clyde area for a week or so, heading up the neighbouring Loch Long to near Arrochar, where they put on some grand shows for photographers. Three of them then moved to the head of the Gareloch, where the Faslane submarine base is sited.

The buildings in the background are used to service the UK's Trident submarine fleet. The base also berths and services a number of surface vessels (none of the photos in this post are ours).

People were at first understandably excited and entranced at the chance to get such close-up views of these magnificent beasts.

lifewithoutnukes 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
Now these visitors 🐳 are the kind we love 💓 seeing in the #Gareloch #Whales #Argyll #Scotland #marinelife

[Twitter video]

Unfortunately, scientists feel they're in some distress and rather thin, so they're not thriving.

Faslane is due to host the major annual Exercise Joint Warrior around the Scottish coast beginning this weekend, and ships from various navies have already begun to arrive in the area.

The fear is that the whales may be disturbed by the increased traffic and beach in the shallow waters at the head of the loch, which would obviously be disastrous. Any danger they might pose to shipping in the relatively enclosed waters is a subsidiary concern.

So we headed out around 4pm to see if we could witness what was going on. By the time we arrived, we found a flotilla of RIBs heading in formation beyond the Rhu Narrows, which is where the Gareloch opens out into more expansive waters. Here's an aerial view:

And here's a closer one:

We could hear some sounds from the RIBs, as if someone was banging a tin pot, presumably as part of the herding effort. After a while, the RIBs gathered into a raft and stayed put for about 20 minutes.

We hoped at that point that they'd been successful and were allowing the pod to make its own way into the Firth of Clyde. The RIBs then dispersed back into the Gareloch. so we haded around the Rosneath Peninsula to get a better view of the wider Clyde. We encountered some Coastguard vehicles, so stopped to ask them what they knew. Sadly, they'd heard over their radios that the pod had turned back into the Gareloch, so today's effort had been a failure.

Here's the latest developments I could find in the media:

Gareloch whales rescue bid goes on after first attempt fails

A multi-team operation to herd a pod of whales stranded in shallow water near Helensburgh to safety is continuing this evening - after the first rescue attempt failed.
An update shared on the BDMLR Facebook page shortly before 5pm said: "The whales were successfully herded towards the mouth of the loch earlier today, however as the whales reached Rhu Point, they changed direction and headed back towards Garelochhead.

The boats have stopped to refuel and regroup, the operation will then continue.

"With an increasing amount of traffic on the water our spotters on shore are finding it difficult to monitor the movement of the animals."

NATO military exercise, Joint Warrior, is set to start this weekend, bringing with it an influx of vessels to the Faslane naval base over the next few days, and the MoD has said that it would be prepared to amend the scheduled programme of activity if circumstances involving the whales dictate.


Spectacular scenery across Gare Loch this evening as our team make a final attempt to move the Northern Bottlenose Whales out of the Loch. We'd like to thank the locals, boat operators, the MoD and everyone who has given their support and assistance today. 👏 🐋

Samantha McFarlane

[Twitter video]

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Reply Rescuers race to herd whales away from military exercise in Scotland (Original post)
Denzil_DC Oct 2020 OP
Ferrets are Cool Oct 2020 #1
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Thu Oct 1, 2020, 06:33 PM

1. Fucking murderers

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Fri Oct 2, 2020, 08:32 AM

2. Final update from BDMLR on Facebook

Gareloch Attempted Whale Relocation on 1st October 2020 - Update

Following extensive planning and coordination with other agencies over the preceding week, a briefing was held in Centre 81, Garelochhead at 9am for those involved in the planned relocation. This was streamed over a closed WhatsApp group for the benefit of those in other locations along the planned route.

Attending were BDMLR medics, Coastguard, RB Marine, RNLI and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The initial plan was to use a small group of boats to surround the animals in a U-shaped formation and repel them using engine noise southwards to the mouth of the Loch and out to the Firth of Clyde. From there, a second set of boats would be blocking the Clyde and the two groups together would then try to pivot the pod of whales and proceed west along the Clyde. The mouths of the Holyloch, Loch Long and the eastern channel around Cumbrae would be similarly blocked and land-based medics and coastguard teams were standing by to aid the efforts. Alternate strategies including the potential use of ‘banging poles’ were also outlined to the group.

On forming up, two adult northern bottlenose whales were spotted and the boats moved into position and began to drive forward, however the animals soon evaded the line and surfaced behind the boats. The group reset the position upwater of the whales, repeating this pattern of events several times, slowly moving the animals south and improving cohesion of the line as well as being joined by a RIB from Marine Scotland out of Largs. Just after midday, the group were able to keep the animals moving forward and herded them to the mouth of the Rhu Narrows where they were lost in the deeper water; this pair were not identified again in the Loch while boats were in the water so are suspected to have left through the narrows at that point.

After waiting in position for further sightings, the land-based watchers identified 3 animals in the water just south of Garelochead. When the boats arrived at the location, it was apparent that there was a parent/juvenile pair and a single large adult. This proved difficult to manage as what were essentially 2 groups kept far enough apart that they couldn’t be driven together. The team concentrated on the pair, attempting to drive them south however they proved very elusive and so the team concentrated on the single whale when the pair evaded and stayed submerged.

Around 3pm, having had numerous attempts to drive the animals, the decision was made to resort to using banging poles. By this point, we had moved all boats from outside the loch inside to attempt to put as much noise as possible into the water to drive the animals south. Several more short attempts were made and evaded, however the whales were driven south to Roseneath before evading and on subsequent attempts were herded to the Rhu Narrows again.

After waiting there for further news, the MOD reported a sighting in the area of the peace camp south of the naval base. The boats returned to the sighting area around 4.40pm and due to the risk of failing light, prepared for a final attempt but the animals did not resurface and land based watchers were unable to spot anything either and after spending time searching, the boats and land crews were stood down at around 5.40pm.

During debrief, a decision was made not to return for a second day due to uncertainty whether we could bring the same number of boats and crews back to the scene; concern over stress levels in the animal and that simply repeating the same manouvers would not be any more likely to succeed given the geography and behavior of the whales.

Given there are no previous international records of northern bottlenose whales being herded and the overall gaps in knowledge about the species, combined with the geography of Gareloch this was always going to be a difficult attempt with success not guaranteed. We have however leant a great deal about the behavior of these whales for any future relocation of the species and given the short window for organising and conducting the relocation attempt, we are hugely proud of the efforts of the BDMLR team and likewise grateful to the many organisations who assisted this endeavor.

Our medics and teams will continue to monitor both the area and the whales behaviours and movements and will reassess the situation is required.


So the whales remain in the Gareloch for the time being.

We've yet to see what changes the MoD will make to its mustering plans at the Faslane base for Exercise Joint Warrior.

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