Marine mammals deafened by detonation of submerged bombs

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Detonated bomb under the sea
Detonated bomb under the sea

Detonated bomb under the sea. Photo in public domain.

Background

A huge quantity of live explosives lies at the bottom of the seas surrounding Britain. A lot of them were dumped by German bombers during World War II. There is a construction programme going on in these seas to build wind farms. In order to protect the wind turbines and the construction workers, these bombs are being blown up. The blasts create a deafening sound.

Marine wildlife

Joanna Lumley is on another campaign to protect “our most precious whale and dolphin species” because they are being made deaf by the sounds of these blasts. It is said that the vibrations from large explosions can cause permanent damage to mammals within 1 mile. They estimate that each explosion causes deafness in 60 marine mammals. At the moment, about 50 detonations are carried out annually. A small charge is placed on the rusty bomb which detonates the explosives in it.

Increasing problem

The protection of marine mammal species has become more urgent because the problem has been compounded by the British government pledging that the country will be carbon neutral by 2050. Offshore wind farms play a large role in meeting this objective. Boris Johnson has pledged that in 10 years there will be enough wind power to provide electricity to every home in Britain.

Joanna Lumley believes that it is crazy that developers are able to blow up bombs in this way to cause harm to marine wildlife, particularly whales and dolphins.

She argued that there are better alternatives such as “deflagration”, which involves the burning of the explosive inside the bomb at a temperature below which it is detonated. A further alternative is to detonate the bomb but protect marine wildlife by surrounding the explosion with bubbles.

The spokesperson for the trade association of the windfarm constructors and operators, Luke Clark of RenewableUK, said that the industry is aware of the problem. He said that they welcome “the development of new technologies which can help to make [unexploded ordnance] safe and reduce environmental impacts”.

He claims that detonation of the bombs is a last resort. In 2011, 39 pilot whales out of a total pod of 70 became stranded in northern Scotland. The whales were healthy and the experts concluded that the cause was the disposal of munitions the previous day.

Update

I have an update from The Times of November 7, 2020 in which they report that Joanna Lumley’s campaign has had an early success in that she has won a promise from the government to find quieter ways of disposing of unexploded bombs. George Eustice, the environment secretary, has confirmed that the government is committed to looking for alternative ways to deal with these bombs and their preferred option is deflagration, which I’ve mentioned above. I wish I had the power of Lumley to change things!

My thanks to the report in The Times Newspaper of 3 November 2020.