Top 2017 Cetacean Stories

2017 has been a mix year where we had heroic rescues, exciting new research, new ways of helping stranded cetaceans, but also unimaginable cruelty, lack of any progress and devastating losses. Below are the stories that stood out for one reason or another.

#15. In January 2017 13.5% of entire Gulf of Mexico false killer whales population (~700) was lost in just one stranding involving 95 whales. None of the whales were rescued, some died on their own others were euthanized. Just a few days ago “experts” stated that they still have no idea what happened and that whales were not gravely ill, but died of exposure. The anthropogenic causes of this stranding have not been investigated (as usual).

#14. In 2017 we have learned (yet again) that being in shallow waters does not automatically result in stranding. Below are two examples involving bottlenose dolphins and a humpback whale that ventured to very shallow waters but did not strand.

#13. In February 2017, New Zealand saw one of the largest mass stranding involving pilot whales in its history where total of 600+ pilot whales came ashore in several waves. Some were rescued, some were euthanized and some died. We reported anthropogenic noise activities in the area, but, as usual, New Zealand officials and rescues did not investigate potential anthropogenic causes.

#12. This was the year that South African authorities and rescues were especially cruel and brutal in their responses to stranded whales. At least two stranded humpback whales were blown up with explosives while still alive. We strongly condemn this barbaric and cruel way to deal with stranded whales as it cause unimaginable pain and suffering for a whale and has no place in civilized society.

#11. Humpback whales did not have a good year (although they still fared much better than Northern Right whales who have experienced catastrophic and unprecedented loss ). Something is not right along the Atlantic East Coast where 41 dead humpback whales have been reported. While some died from ship strikes, it was still not clear what caused this die off. It is important to remember that for every carcass that washes ashore there are probably N carcasses that were never recovered, so the true extent of mortalities is most likely much higher.

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#10. In 2017 we finally got to see extremely rare and elusive Traver’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon traversii) who stranded alive and died in Morocco. Before 2010, people only saw bones of this whale, but in 2010 they finally got to see two live specimens. This is the third recorded sighting, sadly of a dead whale.

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#9. Three important studies caught our attention in 2017. First study by Bradford et al. (2012) reported that whales can improve their body condition and that the body condition fluctuates from year to year. It is extremely important finding, because in many cases stranded whales are euthanized because of “bad body condition” while this study shows that the condition fluctuates and can indeed improve. The second study Patel et al. (2017) found that Gray’s beaked whales strand in groups that are not related to each other, even subadults were not related. Finally, NASA published some preliminary reports from a large data mining study where they kind of found the obvious: space weather does not cause whales and dolphins to strand.

#8. In 2017 fearless public continued to save stranded whales and dolphins. All these cases are extremely inspiring because people were able to use common sense, act fast, act effectively, use their common sense, save lives without endangering themselves.

#7. While humpback whales had a bad year as they died in large numbers and were not rescued, the whales themselves still seemed to try to help others. In 2016 we learned about some altruistic behavior of humpback whales, and in 2017 we saw another evidence of that when a humpback whale tried to interfere and prevent orcas from feeding on a gray whale calf.

#6. While large whales are typically not rescued when they strand, in 2017 we had a very exciting case from Washington where a young stranded gray whale was rescued successfully. It is especially exciting because the whale lasted 3 days fully stranded and rescuers did not give up on him, eventually refloating him successfully.

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#5. The heroism of the public never ceases to amaze and 2017 was not an exception. One fearless Irish dude (John Lowry) managed to rescue a stranded minke whale all by himself! Take that lousy rescues who whine constantly that stranded whales cannot be rescued!

#4. Indonesia pulled the most amazing rescue in 2017 where 10 sperm whales stranded alive. With a gargantuan effort they have managed to rescue 6 enormous sperm whales by using manpower alone without any sophisticated equipment or technology. We reported anthropogenic noise activities in the area but again, sadly, the causes were not investigated.

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#3. Kogias (pygmy and dwarf sperm whales) are rarely rescued when they strand and are probably the most commonly euthanized stranded cetaceans, that is why every successful kogia rescue is a big deal. In 2017, a mom and a baby kogia stranded in Kuril Islands, Russia and were rescued successfully. While we do not typically support dragging a whale by his tail, in some critical cases it can be done without damaging a whale when: a) the whale is small; b) is at least partially submerged; d) it is the only way to get him back to water as the time is running out. From previous cases we know how much kogias prone to stress, so the sooner they are put back to water the better.

#2. Some cetacean species do not strand often, so another case from Russia caught our attention in 2017. This case involved a bowhead whale who stranded alive in Russia’s Far East. There were several efforts to help the whale and he eventually freed himself at the high tide. It was a young whale and it was suggested that he might have ventured to shallows to escape orcas. In any case, it is exciting that this whale survived, especially because bowhead whales are truly amazing and can live up to 245 years!

Image by Sergey Dolya

#1. This is the most exciting story of 2017 because of the implications it will have on all stranded cetaceans. This year IFAW not only managed to rescue a stranded minke whale, but they also attached a satellite transmitter to follow up and see his progress and survival. Not only data showed that the whale demonstrated normal behavioral patters post-rescue, IFAW now has first official and carved in stone confirmation of 45 days survival post-rescue for a live stranded minke whale! It is truly amazing development that once again demonstrates that with professional, fast, effective rescue efforts stranded whales and dolphins can survive their stranding and will thrive!

Source: IFAW