Stranded Sperm Whale Met With Gruesome Death – Help Prevent Similar Events in the Future

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On Saturday (10/5/13) a sperm whale was discovered after it stranded in a bay in the Philippines. It had met with a gruesome death at the hands of poachers – although the whale was beginning to decompose the red blood around it showed that it had been alive when it was attacked. Jojo Bascug, who is the province’s consultant on environment ” pitied the whale’s fate in the hands of the poachers who only wanted a portion of its body for sale”

The whales had holes in its head, and its stomach had been slit in order that the thieves could search for ambergris, a substance that sperm whales produce which is valuable to the perfume industry. (To help prevent this happening in the future, please see this project*).
Nearby, in another part of the Philippines, two Risso’s dolphins and a striped dolphin that also stranded met with a better fate.  The authorities were notified and were able to assess the dolphins, so the two Risso’s were returned to the ocean, while the striped dolphin was taken in to be rehabilitated.

risso's dolphin strand philippines
STUDENTS of Tanjay City Science High School, supervised by Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer Jac Senagan (left), provide care for the stranded Risso’s dolphin off the Tanjay City shoreline last Thursday. SIDNEY R. LEE/CONTRIBUTOR

Given the nature of the striped dolphin’s injuries however, there may be little that the authorities can do.

In Pangasinan, a rare striped dolphin was found stranded at a Lingayen beach in Lingayen town on Friday. Personnel from the provincial disaster risk reduction and management council tried to bring the dolphin back to the Lingayen Gulf but it kept on returning to the shoreline, according to council head Fernando de Guzman.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) veterinarian Dr. Samantha Licudine said the 2.2-meter adult female dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) had a tear near its right fin, which “could have been caused by a predator.” She said the dolphin returned to the shore because it could not swim well. “It was listing and could not balance itself,” she said. Sun Star 

The fact that the dolphin was listing (turning to its side) can be indicative of balance problems – either in the hearing apparatus or brain/nervous system complications. The torn fin could have happened after the major event that disrupted the dolphin’s ability to stay upright.
In the video below, rescuers struggle with a pilot whale in Scotland that also had difficulty staying upright:

Although a half a world apart – one in the Philippines, the other in the British Isles – these stranding events have some things in common.
In both situations an usual variety of normally deep water species were involved, and both involved animals that looked battered and behaved unusually. (Please see “Panicked Whales Are Stranding in Area of Seismic Exploration” for information on the Great Britain strandings).
Both occurred in areas of intense exploration for oil. While the North Atlantic region has a longer history of offshore exploration, some areas of the South China Sea are just opening up. The Philippines is poised to exploit anticipated offshore sources of oil and gas, and is in a hurry to do so – the region is plagued with power shortages and has financial incentives to encourage foreign oil companies to perform seismic surveys of the seabeds.

Wikipedia Commons.
Wikipedia Commons.

In April, the 13-million-hectare continental shelf off the east coast of Luzon, near the provinces of Aurora and Isabela, was declared by the United Nations as part of Philippine territory. In 2008, the Philippines filed the claim in the area, which is an extinct volcanic ridge.
The area, which is also known as Benham Plateau, is a deepwater fishing ground for deepwater fish like bluefin tuna. It is also believed to be rich in natural gas and manganese nodules.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is looking to bid out portions of the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise in the eastern Luzon Seaboard for oil and gas exploration projects next year. But the DOE will first have to secure seismic survey data to encourage investors, an official said.
The DOE, along with other government agencies, is also fasttracking the permitting process for other petroleum projects as the Philippines is largely underexplored compared with its Southeast Asian neighbors. 

The exploration for off shore sources of oil and gas is disruptive to the marine environment, and while researchers struggle to define how to safely go about minimizing that impact, they need more data on the animals that strand. Perhaps, had the unlucky sperm whale that was attacked been reported to the authorities in time, it would not have had to suffer a brutal death and would have been properly euthanized.
An international stranding network will help on both accounts – it will provide more data to scientists, and help get stranded animals the help they need.
*International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network development:

The effects of this sound can be profound on cetaceans and lead to blast type injuries or drastic alteration in dive behavior. Bleeding in the brain, ear canal, and melon (the forehead), is characteristic of whales and dolphins who beach themselves following exposure to loud sounds.
The continuous onslaught of sound can also make it difficult for family members to find other pod members in the din. This furthers the chance that pods will intermingle in assemblages not characteristic for them, or find themselves without a pod leader. There is even a chance that in attempting to escape the worst of the sound, dolphins and whales may flee to unfamiliar areas and find themselves lost

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