What Caused the UK's Largest Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) Mass Stranding Event?

Paul D. Jepson, Robert Deaville, Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, James Barnett, Andrew Brownlow, Robert L. Brownell Jr., Frances C. Clare, Nick Davison, Robin J. Law, Jan Loveridge, Shaheed K. Macgregor, Steven Morris (+13 others)
2013 PLoS ONE  
On 9 June 2008, the UK's largest mass stranding event (MSE) of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) occurred in Falmouth Bay, Cornwall. At least 26 dolphins died, and a similar number was refloated/herded back to sea. On necropsy, all dolphins were in good nutritive status with empty stomachs and no evidence of known infectious disease or acute physical injury. Auditory tissues were grossly normal (26/26) but had microscopic haemorrhages (5/5) and mild otitis media (1/5) in the
more » ... est cases. Five lactating adult dolphins, one immature male, and one immature female tested were free of harmful algal toxins and had low chemical pollutant levels. Pathological evidence of mud/seawater inhalation (11/26), local tide cycle, and the relative lack of renal myoglobinuria (26/26) suggested MSE onset on a rising tide between 06:30 and 08:21 hrs (9 June). Potential causes excluded or considered highly unlikely included infectious disease, gas/fat embolism, boat strike, by-catch, predator attack, foraging unusually close to shore, chemical or algal toxin exposure, abnormal weather/climatic conditions, and high-intensity acoustic inputs from seismic airgun arrays or natural sources (e.g., earthquakes). International naval exercises did occur in close proximity to the MSE with the most intense part of the exercises (including mid-frequency sonars) occurring four days before the MSE and resuming with helicopter exercises on the morning of the MSE. The MSE may therefore have been a "two-stage process" where a group of normally pelagic dolphins entered Falmouth Bay and, after 3-4 days in/around the Bay, a second acoustic/disturbance event occurred causing them to strand en masse. This spatial and temporal association with the MSE, previous associations between naval activities and cetacean MSEs, and an absence of other identifiable factors known to cause cetacean MSEs, indicates naval activity to be the most probable cause of the Falmouth Bay MSE. Citation: Jepson PD, Deaville R, Acevedo-Whitehouse K, Barnett J, Brownlow A, et al. (2013) What Caused the UK's Largest Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) Mass Stranding Event? PLoS ONE 8(4): e60953.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060953 pmid:23646103 pmcid:PMC3640001 fatcat:6rmvd3ruizctjajzpihp6yivt4