A stranded Bryde’s whale

Yesterday 2nd March, ORCA received an alert about a stranded whale 170 km north of Lima. The people giving the alert did not know if the whale was still alive and what species it was.

As soon as we got the phone call Anique and I got all the equipment ready for a whale rescue taking everything we thought might be needed and we headed out the door. We made our way to Lima and got a ride from Ary, a local ORCA volunteer, to the site of the stranding.

When we arrived there, it was clear that the whale had been dead for some time out at sea before stranding on the beach. Most of the body was without skin and the body had started to decompose.

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The whole ORCA team got to work collecting data and sample and taking measurements. The whale was a baleen whale of 13.2 meters and a female. Baleen whales are whales who have baleen (fine hair-like structures) instead of teeth and who eat organisms that are up to a few centimeters long.

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Next up after measurements and sample collection was trying to determine the species. The whale was a baleen whale but that was all we knew so far. One feature to identify baleen whales are crests on the top of the whale’s head. The whale however was lying on it’s side and the belly was exposed. Ary and I got down to our hands and knees and started digging underneath the head to find the crests. After a few minutes of shoveling sand out from under the whale, I found the first crest. After another 10-15 minutes of digging, I found a second crest which was on the center of the whale’s head. The distance from one crest to the other was from the tip of my fingers to my elbow. The only species of whales to have a crest in the center of the head (three crests in total on the top of the head, one on each side and one in the center) is the Bryde’s whale.

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Blood was coming out of the head and the side of the head showed signs of physical trauma. These two things gave us the cause of death, this young whale (aprox.25 years old) died from a boat striking accident. All species of baleen whales travel huge distances between their feeding grounds and their calving. With the always increasing amount of human activity and boat traffic, incidents of whales being hit and injured by boats is becoming increasingly frequent. This results in more and more whales washing up dead all over the world.

The Bryde’s whale washed up on the beach in north of Peru is one more victim on human activity. The whale was a female who had recently had a calf who most likely starved to death and has not been found yet. The stranded whale attracted a small crowd on the beach as well as reporters. This gave the ORCA team the chance to pass along the message that everything we do has an impact on the oceans and every living being in them. It is to every individual to make that impact as little as possible. Everyone can make a difference for our oceans and for the future of our planet.

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(Written by Myriam V. – ORCA Intern from Belgium, summer 2014)

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