Beached humpback whale euthanized

Whale carcass towed to secluded spot to allow Namibia Dolphin Project to carry out research.

25 August 2019 | Local News

Walvis Bay • Leandrea Louw
An adult humpback whale that beached at Independence Beach in Walvis Bay on Wednesday, was euthanized during the early hours of Saturday morning.
On Friday morning the last attempt to refloat the animal was abandoned. Local boat owner Allan Louw, made his boat – the Searaker – available to move the whale as it was showing some activity, essentially free floating so able to move if willing. However, the whale had dug itself into a hole and it was just not possible to force it to move without injury. In time the exercise was called off as the whale became extremely agitated.

The whale was euthanized on the beach by means of a low grade explosive being placed in its blowhole. This is done because a whale’s skull is too thick to shoot it through the brain and its blubber is too thick to inject it with a lethal cocktail.
Following the procedure, the carcass was moved from the beach to a secluded site where the Namibian Dolphin Project team are taking some final measurements and samples.
According to Dorothy Fourie, field officer of the Namibian Dolphin Project, signs indicate natural causes and extreme emaciation [it was very skinny]. They said that there have been several beachings of humpback whales in a similar situation in Southern Africa recently. Timing-wise, animals should be undertaking their southward migration to rich feeding grounds after several months in the tropical breeding area.
“We had a similar spate of stranded ‘skinny’ whales in 2017 and it is likely that this situation is being driven by food availability in the Southern Ocean feeding grounds and not any local conditions or events. Ultimately, this can probably be viewed as a positive thing as it suggests the populations have now recovered so far that they are near the environment’s ‘carrying capacity’.”
The decision to euthanize the animal was not an easy one.
“Leaving it to die naturally is slow and excruciating. Their skin is very sensitive to the sun, which means blistering. Given its position, the ocean would still have cooled it off, meaning that it could have taken even longer to die. Also, its own body weight will crush its organs.
“Leaving the animal here on the beach, with volunteers to guard it while nature takes it course, was also not possible.”

On Thursday morning a video spread like wildfire on social media of people jumping on and off the whale, and poking at it while taking selfies and videos. The police and the Special Reserve Forces were called in to guard the animal until its death.
Prior to its stranding on Wednesday, the Namibian Dolphin Project saw the whale swimming in circles which alerted them that something might be wrong.
“We arrived at the scene around 11:30 and tried pushing it back. Later on more people arrived to assist us in pushing it back, but each time the animal re-floated, it would swim right back to the beach. Upon inspection, the Walvis Bay Diving Team saw that the animal couldn’t move its left pectoral fin. We didn’t see any visible marks, which meant an internal or muscular injury. If a boat had struck it, the injury would be visible.”
Fourie said they tried re-floating the animal six times and also tried scaring him off. “Each time it would swim in a circle and turn back. It couldn’t swim in a straight line.”
She said that it is very difficult to rehabilitate an animal of a whale’s size. “Namibia simply does not have the facilities and even if we did, whales are long-distance travelling animals, which means if they are rehabilitated in a small space, it places then under tremendous stress.”
Fourie added that people on the beach, as was the case with this whale, have a huge impact on the animal. “Whales are very sensitive to vibrations, so high levels of noise can agitate it and anything that comes close to its head, will aggravate it.”

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