Artícle I – October 2017
|EXPERIENCES IN A CETACEAN MASS STRANDING|
On February 12th 2015, hundred ninty-eight long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) stranded on Golden Bay beach, Farewell Spit, on the north area of the Southern Island of New Zealand.
After finding out about the massive stranding and that a high number of volunteers were needed, we immidiately headed towards Goldan Bay. When we arrived to Farewell Spit, an information team had already been organised to assist the volunteers that arrived from the nearest ares, from the rest of the island and from the rest of the world.
We received a short briefing on the characteristics of the species that we would be assisting, and on the protocol that we had to follow to ensure that all the individuals were kept fresh, wet and as quiet and confortable as possible until the tide came up again and we could return the animals to the sea.
As we penetrate into the beach, we were completely shocked. The picture is heart-breaking due to the already dead individuals laying on the sand, but at the same time it is moving to see the groups of people surrounding each survivor and trying to keep it alive, anxiously expecting the rise of the waters. Of the hundred ninety-eight stranded individuals, seventy-five are still alive. The rest, could be returned to the sea during the night thanks to the hard work of the volunteers. Unfortunately, some of the individuals died before the rise of the waters
We immediately spot an individual that isn’t being assisted by anyone and we follow the instructions received. We keep its skin covered with bed sheets, towels and other clothes provided by the volunteers, avoiding it to get dry and sunburned. We fight to keep it fresh, trying not to cover the blowhole. With a bucket, we constantly take sea water and we gently threw it on the whale to keep its body wet. As these animals are not prepared to be outside of the water, we dig small wholes under the pectoral fins and the ventral part of the animal to keep it comfortable. To keep the animals as quite in such a stressful situation for them, everyone avoids any possible noise, we are surrounded by silence.
After more than five intense, exhausting and cold hours, we can finally feel a positive environment when the tide starts to come up getting our feet wet. We uncover the bodies of the pilot whales, but we keep them wet until the sea covers them. The staff of the cetacean conservation project Jonah form a human chain in the water to ensure that the animals swim to open waters and that they will not strand again as it happened the previous night. Since pilot whales live in populations with a highly social behaviour that may, sometimes, lead to massive strandings, the rescuers use an inflatable speed boats to drive the animal they think is the dominant female to open waters so that the rest of the group can follow her.
It is very exciting and rewarding to see how the animals are being returned to the open seas and see their magnificent dorsal fins at the distance returning to their habitat. The rest of the volunteers and us stay on a small hill, staring at the sea for hours until it gets dark. We leave the area, invaded by contradictory emotions. It has been a very intense, exhausting and rewarding day. The suffering of the animals left us a feeling of powerlessness that encouraged us to keep assisting them despite the fatigue, impatiently awaiting the rise of the waters. The hardest moments fade away sharing them with hundreds of people from around the world, kids, teenagers and adults, that came to the beach to assist the stranded animals.
Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of many people during two exhausting days, we read on the newspaper that nine individuals stranded again during the night, in which the full moon caused a spring tide that left the exhausted individuals further up on the beach. Hence it was not possible to help them and they had to be euthanized. According to the conservationist of Project Noah, New Zealand is one of the areas where more cetaceans strandings occur. Each year, many cetacean strandings and massive strandings of pilot whales occur in Golden Bay, the latter mainly due to the social behaviour of the species. This bay is on their migratory route to the Antarctic and the groups of animals swim into shallow waters during high tides. The water then recedes quickly and the animals get stuck on the sand and can’t return to the sea. Other stranding causes are that injured or unhealthy animals is followed by a group of animals or due to navigation errors.