Possible Causes of a Harbour Porpoise Mass Stranding in Danish Waters in 2005

Wright, Andrew J.; Maar, Marie; Mohn, Christian; Nabe-Nielsen, Jacob; Siebert, Ursula; Jensen, Lasse Fast; Baagøe, Hans J.; Teilmann, Jonas
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
An unprecedented 85 harbour porpoises stranded freshly dead along approximately 100 km of Danish coastline from 7–15 April, 2005. This total is considerably above the mean weekly stranding rate for the whole of Denmark, both for any time of year, 1.23 animals/week (ranging from 0 to 20 during 2003–2008, excluding April 2005), and specifically in April, 0.65 animals/week (0 to 4, same period). Bycatch was established as the cause of death for most of the individuals through typical indications of fisheries interactions, including net markings in the skin and around the flippers, and loss of tail flukes. Local fishermen confirmed unusually large porpoise bycatch in nets set for lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) and the strandings were attributed to an early lumpfish season. However, lumpfish catches for 2005 were not unusual in terms of season onset, peak or total catch, when compared to 2003–2008. Consequently, human activity was combined with environmental factors and the variation in Danish fisheries landings (determined through a principal component analysis) in a two-part statistical model to assess the correlation of these factors with both the presence of fresh strandings and the numbers of strandings on the Danish west coast. The final statistical model (which was forward selected using Akaike information criterion; AIC) indicated that naval presence is correlated with higher rates of porpoise strandings, particularly in combination with certain fisheries, although it is not correlated with the actual presence of strandings. Military vessels from various countries were confirmed in the area from the 7th April, en route to the largest naval exercise in Danish waters to date (Loyal Mariner 2005, 11–28 April). Although sonar usage cannot be confirmed, it is likely that ships were testing various equipment prior to the main exercise. Thus naval activity cannot be ruled out as a possible contributing factor.


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