Rise in whales stranded on Scottish shores inspires new exhibit


An artist based on Iona, one of several islands in the Hebrides where decomposing whales have been discovered, has spearheaded the creation of a multimedia show to be performed on neighboring Mull this summer.

Mhairi Killin spent 11 days at sea off the west coast of Scotland aboard a Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust research vessel during a massive NATO exercise last year.

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Part of the works in the exhibition On Sonorous Seas, which will include whale bone sculptures, video footage, poetry and a soundscape, draws inspiration from sound and visual data recorded during the voyage.

The remains of whales stranded in Scotland will be used to create artwork for a new exhibit on Mull.

The number of whales stranded on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland in recent years is a growing concern.

Many experts believe that the sonar used to track submarines may startle whales on the surface too quickly, causing them to suffer from decompression sickness – or bends – which is similar to the life-threatening condition experienced by whales. divers.

Research published in 2019 by an international team led by the Universities of St Andrews and Iceland found that sonar from warships can seriously disrupt the behavior of whales and prevent them from feeding.

New findings published earlier this year revealed that human-made underwater noise pollution was picked up by whales in a way similar to how they perceive natural predators, leaving them with the choice of “life before dinner”.

Artist Mhairi Killin is behind a new exhibition inspired by the number of whales stranded in Scotland in recent years.

The exhibition, which opens in July at the An Tobar arts center in Mull, is meant to ‘interrogate power and reliance on sound as a tool for survival and the impact of the legacy of military colonization of vast swaths of land in the Hebrides on the natural and cultural ecological of the islands.

Killin worked with several other artists on the exhibit, including musician and composer Fergus Hall, whose soundscape was based on recordings of whales and dolphins, as well as sonar and boat engines.

Poet and artist Miek Zwamborn wrote an ‘elegy and requiem’ for the whales, while calligrapher Susie Leiper’s work is imprinted with the imprints of whale bones washed up on Iona.

The sculpture work in the exhibit, which will feature a ‘constellation’ of recorded whale strandings, will include the skull of a whale that was stranded on the Lewis Coast in 2018.

Artist Mhairi Killin is behind a new exhibition inspired by the number of whales stranded in Scotland in recent years.

Live performances of the soundscape compositions will be shown this summer in locations around Mull and Iona where whales have washed ashore before.

Killin said: “By transforming the way we tell the story of the mass of 118 beaked whales in 2018 – a story embedded in the overlay of two cryptic environments, the military and whale habitats – through a partnership between science, music and art, we are transforming the way we observe this history.

“Perhaps by doing so, we can tell reality differently and bring an audience to the complexity of this issue.”

Hall said, “The soundscapes I’ve created are imaginary because they have to be.

“The void between our experiences and theirs (the whales) is demonstrated by the fact that we need technology to get a simple glimpse of their world, but even then that glimpse is blurry, clouded by the rush of water, boat engines and creaking shrimp.”

Alison Lomax, Director of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said: “We were delighted to be part of On Sonorous Seas, sharing our long-term monitoring of whales and dolphins off the west coast of Scotland for the project.

“Bringing together science and art creates a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the impacts of sonar and underwater noise in our seas.”


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