The Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) recently responded to a stranding of a humpback whale and the team at International Marine Volunteers was asked to assist.
The carcass was covered in many wounds from having washed in over the sharp rocks and much of the skin was missing. It came closer and closer to shore over the next few high tides and was eventually lodged on the high water mark, within a few meters of the road.
Volunteers assisted the DICT marine biologist by doing observations and data recording as well as taking measurements and samples. They were given an in-depth lesson on humpback whales and their biology and were amazed by the sheer size of the whale!
Some of them had seen this same whale swimming around the bay just a couple of days prior to the stranding. The identity was matched using photo ID of the dorsal fin. Humpback whales can also be matched by comparing photos of the underside of the flukes, but this animal only showed its flukes once and only a partial photo could be collected. The tail was also so damaged during stranding that the patterns would not have been comparable.
It is heart-wrenching to witness such a large animal helpless in the surf but this is Mother Nature’s way and such stranding events have been happening for centuries. Stranded animals provide scientists with an opportunity to collect samples, like skin for genetics, baleen and parasites for museum collections and anatomical measurements for comparative studies. It is seldom that one can determine the cause of death but it does provide an incredible educational opportunity for all involved!