Marine biologist Beatriz Ayala – WWF oceans program technician – helps to understand the dimension of the tragedy that occurred in Australia, where they have died 380 whales after being stranded on the island of Tasmania, and explains how a rescue of these dimensions should be approached.

“This is a regrettable event,” the biologist begins, saying that WWF closely follows the evolution of the Australian experts’ maneuvers, hoping that the rescue efforts will be as successful as possible so that, immediately afterwards, you can start investigate the exact causes that have produced it.

Regarding the origin of the event, Ayala is prudent: “You have to wait for the necropsies to be performed on the specimens that have died to determine the cause of the fatal outcome. “

“In that part of the globe there are strandings with relative frequency due to a simple change in the tides”

However, the scientist describes that this type of “group stranding” occurs usually due to natural causes, related to the environment, or social, due to the gregarious nature of some groups of animals that stand out for their great social cohesion. “These pilot whales (that’s what the beached whales are called on the island of Tasmania) all go together.”

The accident could have influenced, he insists, factors beyond human action. “In that part of the globe there are strandings with relative frequency due to a simple change in the tides, which turns shallow bays or sandbanks into real traps and makes it impossible for the animals to return to their habitat, the open sea.”

A disoriented leader

The affected group in Australia draws attention due to its volume, having almost half a thousand animals. “Such large groups are not usually found,” explains the expert, “but they are very social animals, very compact and they all act together. That may be one of the reasons for the accident as well.”

The marine biologist and ocean technician of WWF Spain, Beatriz Ayala.
WWF

“Pilot whales are marine mammals that are not adapted to terrestrial life. They are large, can reach 7 meters and weigh two and a half or even three tons”

And it indicates that the scientists shuffle “that some animal within the group has been disoriented, for example because it was sick, and since they all go to one, they have all ended up stranded.

The reasons why a cetacean gets stuck on land is in its own weight. “Pilot whales are marine mammals that are not adapted to terrestrial life. They are large, can reach 7 meters and weigh two and a half or even three tons. It is a distressing situation. They are immobilized without the possibility of returning to the open sea. Her own weight is a real agony. “

The intervention of the experts, in the opinion of the marine biologist, must take place as quickly as possible and under the guidance of experts veterinarians. “A rapid intervention supervised by veterinary specialists in the management of this type of situation is necessary to guarantee the success of the operation and the survival of the animals that are suffering.”

“They are wild animals that constitute a potential risk for people who can come to help with all the good intentions in the world”

“Given the nature and dimensions of the animals the task is very complicated “, he adds, and explains that “there are action protocols that must be supervised at all times by a technical team specialized in handling this type of animals.

“They are wild animals that constitute a potential risk for people who can come to help with all good intentionsof the world. It must be understood that they are subjected to significant traumatic stress, that is why it is necessary, for example, cordon off the area and keep outsiders out. A blow from a fin can be very dangerous. It is also necessary to avoid shrill noises that can add more stress to the animals. “

Animals threatened by human action

Cetaceans in general are marine mammals globally threatened by human activities that challenge their survival every day. The WWF technician names only some of its risks: collisions with boats, hunting and fishing, underwater noise, marine litter, or harassment due to malpractice in whale watching boats.

Long-finned pilot whales, those stranded in Australia specifically, they are a protected spice by various international agreements. There are also in Spanish waters, explains Beatriz Ayala. Its tropical water cousin lives in the Canary Islands, although there are pilot whales in other regions of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean peninsula. “In the Alboran Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar are the largest resident populations in the entire western Mediterranean.”