Nothing sinister about recent whale strandings

12 November 2018 | Environment

Otis Finck - The recent spate of humpback whale strandings is no need for concern, says the Namibian Dolphin Project (NDP).

Monique Laubscher of the NDP confirmed that members of the organisation attended to four strandings last month.

“We revisited a humpback which stranded in late June in order to retrieve the entire rack of baleen for later display in our environmental office. The first of the recent reported cases involved an adult humpback which was fairly decayed with no obvious signs of cause of death, and a reasonably fresh calf pygmy sperm whale.”

Laubscher said humpbacks beach for certain reasons and this usually happens due to injuries, illness or old age.

“Humpback whales are currently on their southern migration back to their feeding grounds and we have seen not only an increase in sightings, but also an increase in strandings. Although these seem unusual, it is largely as a result of the high number of whales which are currently moving along our coastline,” she explained.

She added that the strandings are a direct result of this phenomenon and is a natural occurrence.

“Although it is a sad sight to see, it is a natural process - much like in humans. Unfortunately the fate of a beached whale is poor, with these animals weighing tens of tons, and they aren't moved around easily.”

Archie van der Merwe, owner of Laramon catamaran and dolphin cruises, also confirmed that he came across large groups of whales moving off the coast last month.

“Fishermen catching snoek noticed the huge amount of migrating whales as well. The most of these animals (95%) were humpback whales and southern right whales (5%). We have between 80 and 140 sightings per year. This however cannot be packaged as a product and is just a bonus on a tour.”

Laubscher further said the NDP is working closely with local and international researchers to monitor the situation and doing its best to keep track of things.

The latest incident involved a young humpback whale which beached during the early morning hours between the bird island and Langstrand.

Laubscher confirmed the animal was a young specimen with a length of just over 9.3 metres which means it was a young animal in the sub adult range. “The other animals discovered previously were also in the same range.”

She explained that most of these animals are no longer with their mothers and are not mature as well.

“It was alive and died later in the day at about 11:00. It had no visible marks or injuries on the outside. It also did not have a high parasite load and appeared to be healthy. This means it suffered internal problems which could have been and injury or disease.”

Another humpback whale which became stuck in the harbour at the syncrolift died and washed ashore north of Langstrand after the carcass was towed around Pelican Point with the aim of having it decompose naturally and safely away from public beaches.

“This was an 11.5 metre female humpback whale, with multiple barnacles and cyamids attached on the skin. She had a clean cut to the dorsal fin, which we suspect happened before the animal died.”

A whale stranded at Solitude and died, while a dusky dolphin was found alive on the beach at Sandwich Harbour.

The dusky was successfully refloated and swam off.

Whale or dolphin strandings or sightings can be reported at 081 687 6461.

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