STRANDED

4 Jun 2009 0 Share

Washed up whale

Washed up whale

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Why do whales beach themselves? What you can do to help?

Over the past few months there have been an alarming number of whale strandings on Australian Coastlines. Happening upon a beached whale can be an extremely distressing experience and it occurred to me that many people may not know what kind of actions to take should they find themselves in this unfortunate situation. So I rang my good friend Wally from the Hervey Bay –based Oceania Project to shed some light on some of the reasons whales beach and what you can do to help. I hope you find it enlightening and helpful.

– Dave Rastovich

Wally, there seemed to be a lot of strandings over the past months. To your knowledge was it a particularly bad year?

There have been quite a large number of strandings in Australia over the past few months. A very large number of pilot whales were stranded in different areas around the Tasmanian Coast and there were also a stranding of sperm whales down there. There was a stranding in Western Australia too. Often when the humpbacks are travelling up the East Coast of Australia every year there are calves who find themselves beached as well but the southern coastlines certainly saw a lot of action.

Can a stranding happen anywhere in Australia?

Generally speaking there are well-defined areas with a greater chance of strandings. For some reason Tasmania appears to be a hotspot. There is some evidence that the landform down there can be a problem. For example sperm whales can find themselves in trouble if they get too close to shore in onshore winds and sea and get caught in a shallow area. Because of their particular type of sound system, which is based on a lot of clicking, if they’re approaching a shallow beach they don’t get a good reflection of sound and they can find themselves in situations they can’t always get out of. That’s only one reason a whale might get stranded.

What are some other reasons?

Well there’s well established evidence in other parts of the world that acoustic mapping by the military is causing the stranding of whales. That was the case recently in the Carribean and the Canary islands and in both cases several species of whales were affected. When they removed the ears from some of the whales that had died they actually found there’d been rupturing within the ear that indicated the whales had risen quickly from a great depth. The argument was that the low frequency active sonar had actually caused them to surface more rapidly than was safe for them.

So it sounds as if we are beginning to understand a lot more about why whales get stranded.

There’s still a lot we don’t know, but there is a lot we have learnt for example, we do know we get different kinds of strandings for different species of whales and dolphins. With some of the very social whales, like Pilot whales it’s now fairly well established that if a senior member or an elder within the group is very ill they will come to shore if they are in danger of losing conciousness. That’s because whales are probably just as afraid of drowning as we are. Unfortunately, the social bonds within these groups is so strong and so intense that the group will follow the sick whale to the shore. Now what used to happen is we’d try and get those whales back out to sea but they’d keep coming back to shore. Subsequently it was realised that if you could find and euthanase the one that was very ill, the others would actually return to sea. But situations like that can provoke a lot of emotion from the public if they’re involved which they often are.

It’s quite a misconception that a whale beaching itself is acting on a suicidal instinct rather than an instinct of survival.

A lot of beachings occur because of illnesses of various kinds, be they infestations of worm parasites or whatever, so the instinct for a whale to go to shore, from what we’ve learned, comes from the fear of losing consciousness. If a whale loses consciousness, it will drown.

What’s the best thing people can do if they come across a beached whale?

The best thing you can do is immediately get in contact with your local branch of the parks and wildlife. Most coastal wildlife and national parks organizations these days are very well informed about stranding and how to cope and deal with them. Many of their efforts especially on a large scale do involve the public, because the public want to get involved.

Is there anything specific people can do to help a beached whale feel less distressed or more comfortable?

It’s crucial that you ask for guidance in this area. If it’s a small whale and there’s no danger of it thrashing the main thing is to keep it wet. Soaking wet towels, cloths and buckets of water. And remember this is a mammal that breathes oxygen, so don’t clog, block, pour water into or impede the flow of air through the blowhole in anyway. Finally, you have to be aware that these are creatures that live in their own environment, they’re wild and they’re probably in a pretty intense state and it’s very easy to get in the way. If you get in the way of a fluke of a humpback whale it’s lethal. You have to be aware and careful and I caution people: seek guidance from those with experience.

Where can people go if they want to research more on this topic?

Through our website oceania.org.au there is a huge range of links and through that there are threads to organizations that can provide further information on strandings and how you can help. If people want to have a look at the work we’re involved in with humpback whales they can look through our site too. Then they can actually come and join our expedition as interns and participate and help assist in the research that we’re doing.

The latest issue of Australia’s premiere surfing title has hit the newsstands and this issue will challenge everything you thought you knew about surfboards. Featuring design conversations with elite, the weird, the genius and the downright whacky, the Blueprint offers perspectives that will inspire you to open your mind to the glide of varying surf craft.

The issue kicks off with a major piece written by 9 times World Champion Kelly Slater, who is spearheading yet another surfing revolution by shaping his own boards for this years tour. "I think everyone should go out there and ride something weird or something you're not used to, just for the sake of it. Right now, if you want to shred you’ll end up refining your equipment. If you want to have fun, you’ll lean towards something easy. If you want to have fun while you shred you have to design something different and then refine it. That’s where I’m at right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m finding that surfboards are exciting again,” says KS. It’s compulsive reading from the most influential surfer of all time.

On the same theme we talk to Jason Stevenson about what he’s shaping for Joel Parkinson’s run at this years World Title. Sage Joske talks about his father’s quest to re-create the traditional Hawaiian Alaia’s. Neal Purchase Jnr follows in his father’s footsteps to keep the family business moving into a new era. Jock Serong investigates the hazards facing our shapers, glassers and sanders who create the vehicles of our enjoyment and Greg Webber shares three theories that need to be read to be believed. “In my opinion, Asian men, have softer, more feminine hands.” What’s he on about? It’s all in the issue.

We also talk to Mick Fanning who despite being in red hot form on this year’s tour has slipped under the hype radar allowing him to plan a second World Title assault somewhat from the shadows. And how would he feel if the race came down to just he and good friend Parkinson? “You’re never gonna lay down for ya mate,” he says. Game on!

Still not enough for ya? Then check out Rata’s column, Jon Frank’s week with Yadin Nicholl, Mark Richard’s thoughts on the World Tour and a whole lot more.

Surfing World Magazine, no wonder it’s an Australian legend.

surfingworld.com.au

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