Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sperm Whales Stranding in Europe

courtesy: Maritime & Coast Guard Agency
More:  Scientific investigation into the deaths of six sperm whales has begun by Cetacean Strandings Investigation Program (CSIP).  Under a royal law from the 13th century, all whales, sturgeon and porpoises are regarded as "royal fish" so that when stranded or caught by fisherman they become crown property.  They are no longer placed on the Queen's table but formal record keeping of stranding began in 1913.  Speculation is building concerning the cause of the recent rash of strandings in Europe.  The leading cause is the whales got lost.  Their echo-location navigation system does not work well in shallow water and the North Sea is one of the shallowest in the world. Whether climatic change which has brought tropical species north is responsible for the whales leaving deep water is unknown.  Disease from parasite infection has also been posited.  More worrisome is the potential for toxic overloads of PCBs and heavy metals.  Heavy metals are now so concentrated in fish that pregnant women and small children are warned not to eat more than two portions of affected fish in a week.  A pod of pilot whales that stranded in Scotland contained high levels of cadmium in their brains.  Mercury concentrations were also high enough to cause stress on the mammals' bodies.

{04.02.16}Six sperm whales have washed ashore in Britain in recent weeks, of twenty-nine total throughout Europe. Volunteers were unable to re-float the mammal due to its massive size between 25 and 30 tons. The male died on the Norfolk beach of kidney failure, most likely [photo, credit]. Whales' massive bulk is supported by water, but when they beach their weight damages internal organs and muscles. People tried to make the whale more comfortable in its last hours by pouring water over its body. The UK does not possess the methods to humanely euthanize such large mammals. The tide arrived while it was still alive, but it did not recover. Scientists said it is likely the male came in with a pod to feed in shallow water, but it is not known whether any human activity was responsible for the spike in strandings. All six whales were males and were probably members of the same bachelor pod. Sperm whales are deep-sea carnivores and easily become disoriented in shallow water.  Once a necropsy
is completed, the carcass will be cut up and taken to a land fill or incinerated.