04
Feb
16

Sperm Whale – Update

Given some of the rubbish that has been said and written regarding the recent Sperm Whale strandings I felt I would put down some of my thoughts and also give an update.

Since the 17 whales listed in the post on Letter from Norfolk on the 25th January https://letterfromnorfolk.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/sperm-whales/ there have been more stranding:

1st February – Eight Sperm Whales were washed up on the mud flats in Northern Germany near the town of Friedrichskoog. These animals were predictably all males and of the same age as those previously stranded.

2nd February – One was washed up on the coast of France near Calais.

3rd February – Two in Germany northwest of büsum

4th February – One at Hunstanton

That makes a total of 29 individuals (so far) in all.

There has been lots of commentary regarding people visiting whales. One interviewee expressed an opinion that people should not go to see the whales as there was a danger of fatality from being hit by shards of bone as the whales exploded. Well, there’s also a chance you’ll get struck by lightning or hit by a meteor.

I have been so so lucky in my lifetime. I’ve seen some marvellous whales of many different species. Most people however don’t get the chance to see a whale alive. If one washes up dead close by it is inevitable that curiosity will drive them to go and see it. Sure, the build-up of gases in the decaying bodies of these animals will cause the gut to expand and split. Explode is a strong word but they can exude a stream of internal parts at speed. Therefore stand well back and don’t get too close. Problem solved. Don’t not go and see them if that’s what you want to do just because there’s a perceived danger. Just be sensible and stand well back.

Some of the children I saw at the Hunstanton whale were enthralled at what they saw. So many questions from them and there’s a lot to tell them. Physiologically Sperm Whales are arguably the most fascinating animals on the planet. Some of these children because of that whale will have a career in marine biology or cetology. Of that I’m sure. It will have sparked an interest, a germination of ideas and thoughts. They are the scientists of the future. Children have been picking up skulls of dead animals or keeping frog spawn in buckets for millennia. Feed their minds for God’s sake … don’t starve them!

These animals are mammals, just like you and I. They carry disease, just like you and I. Don’t touch them and keep your dogs well away… on a lead!

As always trophy hunters will want to take a tooth or the like. Well it’s illegal. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 as amended states:

“It is an offence to keep, transport, sell or exchange, or offer for sale or exchange, any live or dead wild animal of a European protected species, or any part of, or anything derived from, such an animal”

All cetaceans are CITES listed which means they have maximum protection in law. Cetacean parts are just like Tiger skins or Elephant tusks. You need a license from Natural England to pick up anything belonging to a dolphin, whale or porpoise.

So all this boils down to       ‘look from a distance … but don’t touch’

I’ll finish with a photo of a Sperm Whale. It captures the very last moment I saw one alive.

Sperm Whale

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2 Responses to “Sperm Whale – Update”


  1. February 5, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Is it too soon to speculate on the causes of these beachings around Northern Europe? My fear is that naval sonar may be to blame but of course I have no idea how people would ascertain that.

    • February 5, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Alastair – thanks for your comments. It’s far too early to speculate on why these Sperm Whales entered the North Sea. However, there have been mass strandings here for millennia so naval sonar is unlikely; it wasn’t around when 27 to 29 whales stranded in 1752!! – Also sonar tends to effect the smaller Ziphid Whales like Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and Cuvier’s Beaked Whales rather than the larger Sperm Whales. In time international collaborations will give the results from Necropsies on all the whales and a bigger picture will begin to emerge. Although these are highly intelligent animals, they have the largest brain in the animal world, they do make mistakes. I suspect they simply took a wrong turn into the deadly North Sea. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again.


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