Help Beached Whales Survive
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Whale beachings can present a difficult and unpredictable crisis. Understand the risks whales face, the causes of beachings, and how you can help!
Beachings of marine mammals, particularly whales, are distressing occurrences that threaten the survival of these magnificent creatures and raise critical questions about their welfare. The recent tragic mass stranding on the Isle of Lewis in northwest Scotland, where more than 50 pilot whales lost their lives, serves as a stark reminder of the urgency in addressing this issue1.
Understanding the Plight of Stranded Whales
Whales, especially pilot whales, are highly vulnerable to beaching incidents due to their strong social bonds and complex navigation systems. These intelligent marine mammals, part of the same family as dolphins and porpoises, can reach lengths of up to 24 feet and weigh over 6,600 pounds. When stranded, they face risks such as self-inflicted injuries due to their weight or impaired blood circulation, which can release toxins and lead to poisoning. The social nature of pilot whales further compounds the problem, as the entire pod may follow a distressed individual ashore2.
The Frequency and Causes of Beachings
Beachings of cetaceans, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises, have been a concern for decades. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Program of the Zoological Society of London has recorded over 17,000 stranded cetaceans since 19903. While pilot whales are particularly prone to beachings, the causes behind these incidents can vary widely.
Activities such as naval sonar exercises have been linked to whale beachings, disorienting and confusing the animals with loud underwater noise4. Additionally, a sick or injured whale within a pod can lead others astray, increasing the risk of beachings. In some cases, whales may follow an individual that has faced difficulties during childbirth5.
The Urgent Need for Response and Solutions
Successful rescue efforts for stranded whales require a coordinated and rapid response. However, challenges often hinder these efforts. Remote locations like the Isle of Lewis present limited access and scarce resources, posing significant obstacles for rescue teams. Despite these challenges, effective communication channels, an adequate number of volunteers, and well-equipped responders are essential for overcoming these difficulties.
To understand the causes of beachings, organizations such as the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme conduct thorough investigations, analyzing data and collecting tissue samples6. These studies are crucial in implementing preventive measures and guiding conservation efforts and policy decisions.
Responding to a Beached Whale: What You Can Do
Encountering a beached whale is distressing and urgent. By taking the pledge to approach beached whales with proper safety precautions and compassion, your can make a difference and ensure the safety and well-being of both the whale and yourself. Together, we can ensure the survival of these incredible creatures and the preservation of marine ecosystems.
Take the pledge and be a part of the solution!
- Chang Che, The New York Times (17 July 2023), "More Than 50 Whales Die After Being Stranded in Scotland."
- Hafsa Khalil, CNN (17 July 2023), "More than 50 pilot whales die after mass stranding on Scottish island."
- Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, "Why Do Whales Beach Themselves."
- E. C. M. Parsons, Frontiers in Marine Science (13 September 2017), "Impacts of Navy Sonar on Whales and Dolphins: Now beyond a Smoking Gun?"
- Simon Johnson, The Telegraph (17 July 2023), "Entire pod of whales dies in worst mass stranding in Britain."
- Charlotte Alt, The Times (18 July 2023), "Investigation begins into deadly stranding of pilot whales on Lewis."
I recognize the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of beached whales and the role I can play in their rescue and protection. By taking this pledge, I commit to the following actions to ensure that if I encounter a beached whale, it is with safety and compassion:
- Stay calm and maintain a safe distance: I pledge to approach the beached whale slowly and quietly, keeping a distance that does not cause further distress to the animal.
- Contact the authorities: I pledge to immediately report the sighting of a beached whale to the relevant authorities, such as the coast guard, local marine rescue organizations, or wildlife agencies. Provide precise details about the location, size, and condition of the whale to facilitate an effective response.
- Minimize noise and disturbances: Whales are sensitive to noise, so it is essential to minimize unnecessary sounds and disturbances in the vicinity. Refrain from approaching the whale, using loudspeakers, or operating any machinery nearby.
- Observe and document: I pledge to take note of the whale's physical condition, behavior, and any visible injuries. Document the information and share it with the responding authorities to aid in their assessment and decision-making.
- Protect yourself and others: I pledge to be aware that beached whales may be in distress and can exhibit unpredictable behavior. Ensure the safety of yourself and others by following the instructions of trained responders and keeping a safe distance.
- Prevent dehydration: If the whale is still alive and breathing, carefully wet its skin with seawater to prevent dehydration until professional help arrives. Avoid covering the blowhole and causing any obstruction to its breathing.
- Provide shade and support: If possible, I will create shade using towels, sheets, or umbrellas to protect the whale from direct sunlight and prevent further stress.
- Support the whale's body: If the whale is in shallow water, I will carefully stabilize its body by digging shallow channels around it, allowing it to move with the tides and reducing pressure on its organs.
- Wait for professional assistance: Rescue teams with specialized knowledge and equipment should handle the rescue and rehabilitation of beached whales. I pledge to wait for their arrival and follow their instructions carefully. In some cases, it may be necessary to euthanize a stranded whale for humane reasons.
- Educate others and raise awareness: Spread awareness about the risks whales face and the appropriate actions to take in the event of a stranding. Educate your community, friends, and family about the importance of marine conservation and the need to protect these magnificent creatures and their habitats.
Taking these actions will ensure that beached whales receive the immediate attention and care they need, minimizing further harm and increasing their chances of survival. By pledging to respond with safety and compassion, we contribute to a safer world for all marine life, preserving the delicate balance of our oceans and fostering a deeper sense of stewardship for these majestic creatures.