From Indonesia and the South Pacific to the Faroe Islands and the Canadian Maritimes in the North Atlantic, 2017 was a bad year for whales. From mysterious strandings in Sumatra, to annual slaughters, whales have died in great numbers, bringing some species closer to the brink of extinction.
Sperm Whales Stranded in Indonesia!
Just this last week a pod of ten sperm whales were stranded on a beach in Sumatra, Indonesia. Even after the valiant efforts of local residents and government teams to move the whales into deeper water, four of the ten whales died. It is a mystery why these whales who normally prefer much deeper waters, came so close into the shore. (photo – WWF)
One theory is that the whales became disoriented by seismic surveying, being carried out by oil and gas explorations, occurring near the site of the whale stranding as reported in Mongabay. It was determined that two of the whales were injured before the stranding, consequently another possibility may have been that rather than abandon the sick whales, the pod may have followed them into shallow waters.
Japan Continues to Kill Whales
In September, the Japanese Whaling Fleet killed 177 whales off its northern islands in an annual hunt as reported recently in phys.org. The three ships returned with 43 minke whales and 134 sei whales. This follows on top of the Japanese killing more than 300 Minke whales during their annual Antarctic hunt. (photo – phys.org)
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) passed a moratorium on whale hunting in 1986 and although Japan is a signatory, they sidestep the moratorium by killing the whales for “scientific research” (a moratorium loophole). The whale meat ends up on Japanese dinner tables even though research indicates that consumer demand for whale meat has dramatically declined over recent years.
The Sea Turns Red during Annual Slaughter in the Faroe Islands
One of the most horrific whale slaughters is the annual hunt in the Faroe Islands when hundreds of pilot whales, encircled by fishing boats, are driven onto the beach. Once stranded the whales are speared turning the water red with blood as reported in the DailyMail. Although highly controversial the historic “grindadrap” remains legal. Two Danish Navy vessels were in the bay, apparently protecting the event if anti-whaling activists attempted to interfere.
Captain Lublink, skipper of the Brigitte Bardot said: ‘It was perfectly clear to me that the Danish Navy was present at Bøur to guard the grindadráp, and that the slaughter would proceed with the full consent of the Danish Navy.
‘How Denmark – an anti-whaling member nation of the European Union, subject to laws prohibiting the slaughter of cetaceans – can attempt to justify its collaboration in this slaughter is incomprehensible.’
A Catastrophic Year for the Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, after the Vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez, see: Vaquita Rescue Update!
For a species that numbers no more than 500 worldwide, loosing as many as 14 of the whales is disastrous. The whales have been found dead in the waters off the Canadian Maritimes and as far south as Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. (photo – fisheries canada)
Update: As of December 12th, 17 North Atlantic right whales have been found to have died this year.
Blunt trauma caused by being struck by ships in the area’s busy shipping channels has been implicated in several of the deaths, while others drowned after becoming entangled in fishing gear.
Research indicates that the right whales are migrating further north away from the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy where warmer waters are causing their traditional food to move into colder waters. Unfortunately, these colder waters lie abreast the busy navigation routes from the Gulf of St. Lawrence leading to deadly confrontations with shipping and fishermen. Blue Ocean has been following the plight of the North Atlantic right whale and the human cost incurred this year, see: Whale Rescuer Killed after Saving Whale.
Hundreds of Whales Die on New Zealand Beach
Last February, 416 pilot whales had stranded on a beach at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay at the top of the South Island and by dawn of the following day, more than 70% had died. Hundreds of concerned locals attempted to swim survivors out to deeper waters but were frustrated when many of the whales returned to the beach.
“We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don’t really take directions, they go where they want to go. Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach.” said Andrew Lamason of the Department of Conversation. Unfortunately whale strandings in Golden Bay are common.
DOC records indicate that over 5,000 whales and dolphins have stranded themselves on New Zealand beaches since 1840.
Humpbacks Wash Ashore on Cape Cod
Two humpbacks washed ashore on Chatham South Beach on June 23, 2017. Both were juvenile males with no obvious causes of death.
There have now been 46 dead whales, many of them humpbacks, found on beaches along the East Coast since early 2016, causing NOAA to declare this an “unusual mortality event.” Investigations are continuing as reported by the Boston Globe. (photo – oceanaerials.com) See our Blue Ocean article: What’s Killing Whales?
Will 2018 Be Better???
Hopefully 2018 will be less catastrophic than this year, however if the Japanese and Faroe Islands hunts continue, next year might be a replay of this annus horribilis (horrible year).
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
Plus See These Related Blue Ocean Articles on Whales:
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