Understanding The Reasons Behind the Whales Dying in the Beaches

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The examination of whales, dolphins and porpoises stranded on the beach can provide information on what might be happening in the world’s oceans.

The deceased is between one and four years old. He is lying on a metal table in a small polyvalent laboratory of white tiles at the London Zoo. It shows no signs of damage or physical trauma on the outside, suggesting that death was not caused by force. A first autopsy indicates that he was malnourished, but that he had eaten recently.

This is not the beginning of a Nordic surrealist crime story, but the notes related to a common porpoise, the most frequent cetacean in the United Kingdom, found lifeless on a beach on the coast of Wales.

The dead marine mammal is currently being investigated as part of the Encantados Cetacean Research Program  (CSIP). The program, funded by the Government of the United Kingdom, was established in 1990 with headquarters at the Zoological Society of London  (ZSL).

With the help of a network of partner organizations and volunteers, the strandings of marine mammals, turtles and peregrine sharks are recorded along the thousands of kilometres of the coast of the country.

Through necropsies, researchers, in this case, biologists Rob Deaville and Matt Perkins, hope to obtain long-term information about the number and distribution of marine mammals, as well as about contaminants or other factors that are affecting the animal health.

“You do not learn a lot from a stranding every year, but with 15,000 strandings and 4,000 autopsies, you create an entire archive of information that is also of international importance,” explains Deaville about the approximate number of investigations carried out since the CSIP was founded. “A single animal offers us information about a wider context,” he says.

Main business

With the abbreviation CSIP and the exhaustive scientific work carried out by the group, the hashtag “CSI del Mar” (“CSIoftheSea”) is almost an obvious choice. But the tools they use are less sophisticated than those seen in the popular American police series.

“You can get a few more faces,” says Deaville, wielding a pair of gardening scissors over the lifeless porpoise. “But these are more than enough to get the job done,” he clarifies.

The porpoise has recently been recovered from the freezer and its stench floods the small room where a scalpel, saw and a menacing “Brain Bucket” (“brain bucket”) are waiting to be used.

For Deaville and Perkins, it’s another day. Together they have been working in the ZSL for more than 25 years and have carried out more than 1,000 autopsies in the laboratory or, in the case of large marine mammals, in situ.

However, porpoises represent almost half of the average of 600 to 700 strands registered annually in the United Kingdom. That’s why Deaville calls common porpoises the “main business” of CSIP.

“They tell us what happens in the water, in many ways.” Animals are, therefore, a kind of early warning system.

According to Nicola Hodgins, scientific director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) NGO, CSIP offers “one of the few ways” to obtain a real vision of whales, dolphins and dolphins. porpoises.

“You can acquire an idea, possibly reconstruct the history of life, you can determine the age, if the animals were able to reproduce and how many pollutants they absorbed, we learn a lot from this program,” he says.

Understanding The Reasons Behind the Whales Dying in the Beaches

Why and who

However, it is not always possible to determine the reasons for strandings. The phenomenon itself has existed since time immemorial.

“When animals are stranded, people always want to know why and who is at fault, but there is not always someone to blame,” says Deaville.

“It would be nice to be able to say: this porpoise died because it was attacked by a ship, and it died of old age,” says Hodgins, but “sometimes it just can not be said. The animal may seem perfectly healthy. Therefore, only with time can we acquire an image of what happened, “he explains.

At the beginning of 2016, some coastal strips of England, Holland and Germany became a cetacean cemetery when 30 huge young sperm whales stranded there.

Such a large number of animals of a species, which is not really common in the North Sea, was very unusual. Investigations and autopsies were carried out and large quantities of plastic and garbage were found in the stomachs of the whales.

“We were very surprised by the contamination of animals with plastics, marine debris or pollutants,” says Ursula Siebert, director of the Land and Aquatic Wildlife Research Institute (ITAW) of the University of Hannover, whose team He examined sperm whales in Germany.

“We could not associate any fatal injuries with these findings, but it gives us an idea of the large amount of marine debris that these animals ingest while they search for food or simply swim around.” The German ministers took it as a warning, “he explains.

A more recent and disconcerting case has been the discovery of 58 dead whales, mainly beaked whales of Cuvier, on the west coast of Scotland and Ireland.

According to the figures from the Scottish Scheme of Stranding of Marine Animals (SMASS, for its acronym in English), in the last four weeks have run aground more copies of this elusive species of whale, which dive in the deep sea, than in the last decade.

“We attended about six or seven of the beached whales,” says Hodgins, adding that most of them looked like a large grease stain and were barely recognizable as whales were it not for the smell.

“It’s extremely unusual that there are so many animals stranded, it’s not normal, something has happened somewhere in the ocean, we just have to find out what,” he says.

There is no clear verdict

We are back in the lab with the young porpoise, which has already been sawn into several bloody pieces. It may be an awful spectacle, but little by little, clues emerge from its three stomachs and lungs.

Deaville picks them up and shows how the left lung is pink while the right lung is much darker, similar to the colour of a human liver. This is a sign of hypostasis, in which blood has seeped down into the lung while the stranded porpoise was lying on the ground on its right side.

Other tests indicate the presence of a fungus in the lung, which means that the young male may have simply died of an infection. But although it can not be fully clarified what he died of, his report will contribute to the great history of the seas.



Souce: DW

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