Experts link deaths of whales off Irish coast to storms and Russian military drills

Deep-diving animals have been washed-up on coasts of counties Donegal, Kerry and Galway

A number of sightings of dead whales in recent days has fuelled fears that deep sea animals were impacted by recent storms or Russian military exercises in the North Atlantic Ocean earlier this month.

Two large, female sperm whales were discovered at Maghery beach and Malin Head in Co Donegal last week.

This was followed by the discovery of a dead pilot whale at Renvyle, Co Galway and a Cuvier’s beaked whale on Ladies Beach in Ballybunnion, Co Kerry.

Seán O’Callaghan, a Killarney-based marine biologist and PhD candidate on sperm whales, said it was likely that the recent storms led to the whales washing up, but he also said the recent Russian drills off the Irish coast could be a factor.


Mr O’Callaghan said the whales “are a long way in from where they should be” and that the beached whale in Ballybunnion was “particularly degraded”, making the cause of death difficult to determine.

He told the Kerry Today programme on Radio Kerry that “it is unusual” to see so many whales turn up dead in such a short period of time.

He said the recent Russian military activity could be a factor as the Cuvier’s beaked whale is sensitive to sonar. A Cuvier’s beaked whale could go to depths of about 2,000m, but was known to be disturbed by sonar, he added.

“We don’t know for sure what is happening but we have these deep diving whales washing ashore.”


Mr O’Callaghan also said it was strange to see two female sperm whales leave a larger group and end up dead off the Co Donegal coast.

Stephanie Levesque, strandings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said the number of deep diving whales washing-up dead on the Irish coast was not normal.

She said also it was possible that they had been disturbed by the military exercises in the Atlantic. She asked anyone out on coastal walks over coming days to report sightings of any whales to the group.

While the number of dead whales being washed ashore recently is unusual, it is not unprecedented.

Locals in Co Donegal were shocked last April after three whales were found washed-up on Trá Mór in Dunfanaghy. They were believed to be two adult and one juvenile Cuvier’s beaked whales.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has been asked for a comment on the recent discovery of dead whales on the Irish coast.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist