The experiment will see 12 juvenile minke whales caught in nets off Lofoten and held between two rafts for up to six hours to measure their hearing with electrodes under the skin.
The move by Norwegian researchers, which will also involve satellite tagging the minke whales before release, aims to increase understanding of how they hear, to better assess the impact of noise pollution from human activities.
But Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in Scotland is among a group of more than 50 scientists, vets and wildlife groups which has signed a statement of concern written to condemn Norway’s decision.
It warns the tests have significant potential for causing injury and stress and could lead to “capture myopathy” – harm to or death of wild animals as a result of stress or exertions fighting capture and restraint.
Part of the statement reads: “We urge this project to be stopped as it may lead to considerable trauma for the whales targeted, without contributing to useful science.”
The experts also raise concerns that the project risks the safety of researchers, while they say the potential emergency sedation of the whales is not acceptable.
Other groups that have signed it include Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Orca and academics from countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, Peru and Norway.
Wildlife charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation has written to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on behalf of the groups, calling for the cancellation of the trials, warning “they are completely unacceptable from a conservation, scientific and animal welfare point of view”.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority, which awarded the permit for the research by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, said it believed the results would benefit both minke and other whales as more would be learned about how noise pollution in the ocean can disturb the animals.
It also said it believed the consequences for animal welfare have been assessed carefully, and the procedure and decision to grant permission were justified.