MILITARY exercises could have played a part in the death of two rare whales on East Lothian beaches earlier this month, experts have suggested.

The Sowerby’s beaked whales both live stranded; one at Brunstane Burn, near Musselburgh, on October 13, and the other at Gosford, between Longniddry and Aberlady, on October 14.

Both were sent for postmortem to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) at the National Museums of Scotland.

Sowerby’s beaked whales are said to be rare in the waters near East Lothian, one reason being they are deep divers.

Details of the postmortems were released on Sunday evening.

A spokesperson for SMASS said that both animals showed an “unusually high number and distribution” of gas bubbles throughout the tissues, especially on their lungs, liver and intestinal mesentery.

They added: “Whilst gas bubbles are not an uncommon finding during postmortem examinations, and can be a result of either decomposition or emphysema from the stranding process, a large number of bubbles, especially in deep diving species such as beaked whales, is suggestive of nitrogen emboli and decompression sickness (DCS).

“Given how sensitive beaked whales are to underwater noise, specifically naval sonar, we have to consider noise-mediated DCS as a possible cause for these two strandings.

“We are therefore in the process of trying to find data on sources of noise in this region, including putting a request for activity logs to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) following the recent Joint Warrior naval exercises.”

It was revealed that both whales were sub-adult males “with significant trauma from the stranding process”.

However, no other clear underlying infections or disease and no indication of entanglement, boat strike or ingestion of marine debris were spotted.

The spokesperson said: “Neither animal had fed recently but both were in reasonable body condition, suggesting an acute cause of death.”