Two rare ‘True’s Beaked’ whales die on South African beach


True's beaked whaleFrom Earth Times:

Johannesburg- Two rare “True Beaked” whales were found dead on a beach close to Buffels Bay, near Knysa, South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute said Monday. An NSRI commander in Knysa, Rein Hofmery [sic; Hofmeyr], told Sapa news agency that it had received word that a whale had beached itself on Sunday afternoon. An adult whale, who had been lactating, and measuring 4.6 metres in length was later found dead in a rock pool.

“A short while later, a second female True Beaked whale, a 3.4 metre sub-adult was found on the beach, also dead,” Hofmeyr added.

People strolling along the beach had earlier found the whale alive, but they had been unable to get it back into the sea, he said.

Dr Debbie Cockroft, a representative of the Centre for Dolphin Studies, who helped moved the adult whale back to the beach, told NSRI that the cause of the sub-adult’s death was unknown.

Cockroft said that the adult had had a fractured jaw. A whale often accompanies an injured whale and nurses it, which could explain how the sub-adult had been beached.

Tests would show whether the adult whale had been pregnant. “True Beaked” whales are the rarest whale species, Cockroft said, adding, the find would help research.

The name is “True’s Beaked” whale.

Also, it is Knysna.

2 thoughts on “Two rare ‘True’s Beaked’ whales die on South African beach

  1. Navy Sonar Study Focuses on Beaked Whale

    By AUDREY McAVOY
    Associated Press Writer

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Robin Baird’s research team members stare at the horizon for hours, searching for rarely seen beaked whales.

    The small, gray marine mammals have been at the center of the dispute over the Navy’s use of high intensity sonar ever since several washed ashore with bleeding around their brains and ears during naval exercises in the Bahamas seven years ago.

    “They appear to be the most susceptible group of cetaceans to impacts from Navy sonars,” said Baird, a marine biologist based in Olympia, Wash., whose team recently spent three weeks off Hawaii’s Big Island studying whales.

    Training sailors to use sonar is a top priority for the Navy as more nations, including China, have acquired quiet, hard-to-detect submarines. In many cases, the only way the Navy can find these stealthy ships is by using mid-frequency active sonar, firing bursts of sound through the water and listening for an echo off a ship’s hull.

    Environmentalists have filed lawsuits challenging the Navy’s plans for sonar training exercises, claiming the underwater noise harms whales and arguing there’s enough evidence to require the Navy to take more aggressive measures to protect the animals.

    The Navy says it doesn’t want to deny its sailors the full spectrum of sonar training because of unproven theories.

    Beaked whales are among the least understood marine mammals. To learn more, Baird’s research team headed off the Kona coast of the Big Island to attach time-depth recorders and satellite tags to beaked whales in order to monitor the animals’ diving patterns and movements around the islands.

    Beaked whale adults stretch an average 18 feet – about half the length of a typical humpback whale, the most famous and easily spotted whale around the Hawaiian islands.

    As they hunt squid, they dive deeper than almost any marine mammal. One that Baird tagged in previous years descended more than 4,900 feet.

    Many scientists suspect it is the beaked whales’ unique ability to swim at great depths for long periods that makes them more vulnerable to sonar.

    One theory, not yet verified, is that the loud sonar noise startles the whales, prompting them to surface unusually rapidly and causing injuries similar to the bends in human divers.

    “The question is, why would it have a different response from other species? Or why would a behavioral response affect them more?” said Baird, a research biologist with the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective.

    After four years of field work, Baird estimates there are fewer than 200 members of two beaked whale species around the Big Island. This year, in 17 days off the Kona coast, his team spotted beaked whales only twice.

    Experts don’t know enough about beaked whales to say whether their numbers in Hawaii are growing or shrinking, making it impossible to measure sonar’s effect on the population as a whole, Baird said.

    Scientists in the Bahamas ran controlled experiments this month to see how beaked whales and other marine mammals respond to different sounds.

    “We still know almost nothing about the reactions of marine mammals to underwater sound,” Brandon Southall, the Bahamas study’s principal investigator, told reporters in a recent conference call. “Our field is very much in its infancy.”

    Southall, who directs the ocean acoustics program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the results of the Bahamas study should help regulators decide what type of sonar to allow. The Navy is almost entirely funding the study, about $3 million this year.

    Adm. Robert F. Willard, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, said the Navy is willing to post whale lookouts on its ships and limit sonar use when the animals get too close.

    But he said there’s no scientific basis for more stringent measures demanded by some environmentalists, including designating entire areas as non-sonar zones.

    “The frustration and challenge is that we are being asked to put mitigating procedures into place, or to not operate and restrict our freedom of operations, without any foundation whatsoever,” Willard said in an interview.

    Joel Reynolds, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said studies have shown that high intensity sonar can affect whale behavior.

    “It is essential to use the technology in a precautionary fashion and implement commonsense measures to reduce the risk of harm,” said Reynolds, who leads a team suing the Navy over sonar in federal court.

    On the Net:

    Cascadia Research Collective: http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/robin/hawaii.htm

    © 2007 The Associated Press.

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  2. Dozens of whales beach on South African shore

    AP

    Saturday, 30 May 2009

    Dozens of pilot whales beached this morning near the storm-lashed tip of South Africa, prompting a massive rescue operation.

    Rescuers were using six bulldozers to push the 55 whales back into the water, but “as soon as we put them back into the sea, they swim back to the beach again,” said National Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon.

    One whale has died, and high winds and rough seas were frustrating the rescue attempts.

    “It’s not a very easy situation,” Lambinon said.

    Pilot whales, about 3 meters (10 feet) long, are fairly common around South Africa. There was no immediate explanation as to why they were beaching.

    Hundreds of volunteers and onlookers flocked to the beach at Kommitjie, near Cape Point, and were blocking the main approach road. Lambinon appealed to the public to stay away.

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