Why do they Strand?

Skipper Andy takes a look at a question with multiple answers.

Whale and Dolphin standings are an event of huge fascination. They pull people out of their homes from hundreds of miles to go and view these gigantic and illusive creatures close up and in the flesh. For most of us in the UK we have never seen a wild dolphin or whale, and feel the only way we can are to travel to far off lands such as Canada, New Zealand or the Isle Of Skye. Even though some may view the large crowds as disrespectful and garish it all ultimately comes down to our curiosity for the unknown, leading to the following question…. why do they strand?

Earlier this year in January 30 Sperm Whales stranded on the southern shores of the North Sea in Germany, Netherlands, France and the east coats of the UK. Thousands of people have flocked to see these 15,000 kg animals, for this was reported to be the of the largest stranding of sperms whales since reports began.

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Last year on the 2nd of June 2015, there were reports of a pod of Pilot Whales standing on Staffin Bay, and Staffin Island on the Isle Of Skye. Myself and Stardust owner Dan Corrigal took the Stardust II Catamaran out of business for the day to help the BDMLR and existing volunteers with the rescue. After a very long, tiring and emotional day only 6 of 21 whales were successfully saved, but in my eyes this was a real achievement considering the terrible conditions in which the whales had stranded.

Over the past year I have been following standing reports with great intrigue and paying particular interest into why such intelligent animals end up on our shores. Unfortunately there is no general answer and each case is completely different. However, many conservationists are concerned it’s to do with climate change, pollution or military exercises. In some cases this may be correct as whales have been known to venture off course when sonar from ships, or underwater military exercises has confused their complicated and sensitive navigational systems.

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As it stands at the moment with present findings and information, I am please to say that the prognosis of the recent Sperm whale standing does not point to human intervention.  However, thats not to say that more information won’t be revealed in the future to prove otherwise. The current reason is that they got into difficulty after hunting a shoal of squid into shallow water, and were unable to navigate back to deep water, their usual environment. In the case of the Pilot whale standing last year, it appeared that one of the lead females got into difficulty in giving birth to a large calf, and with Pilot whales being extremely gregarious, the bond between pod members is so strong that if one strands the others are likely to follow in what seems like a mass suicide. This is actually an essential adaptation to stop them from getting separated at sea.

There was one case not so long ago that did disturb me in which a Humpback Whale had stranded on the west coast of Scotland and died. During the autopsy they found numerous plastic bags inside it’s stomach. Like many whales, a Humpback’s diet consists of Krill, Plankton, Small Fish and Jelly Fish. The conclusion to the whales death was that it must have mistaken the littered plastic bags floating around the ocean for Jelly Fish and the impaction is what eventually killed it. Sad but true!

We at Stardust love what we do. Being able to take customers out to see such wonders like whales, dolphins, seals, basking sharks and of course our amazing sea eagles is not only our job but our passion too. I think although it’s hard to see or hear of any animal dying, its sometimes beyond our control and like the Sperms whales nature needs to take it’s course, however, stories like the the Humpback whale and the plastic bags really highlight the importance of recycling our commercial and household waste and protecting the world we live in.

 

By Andy Kulesza

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