Scientists chop up just dead whale on beach in California

Yes, they did.
We’ve had our fair share of whales washed up around here too, but this one was a bit different.

This is only the fourth fin whale to wash ashore in this area since 2010. But what’s really unusual is that the animal was still alive when it reached the beach, giving the scientists — who arrived just after it stopped breathing — the extremely rare opportunity to perform an necropsy on a fresh whale carcass.

Most often, large whales washing ashore have been dead for a while, and can be too decomposed to learn much from. “These large whales, by the time they wash up, they’re already severely debilitated. This is our first live whale,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center.

It turns out that this whale was probably involved in a bit of a hit-and-run with a ship, resulting in something called subcutaneous emphysema. The heart – the size of a small child – and part of the whale’s underside showed signs of hemorrhaging, a possible sign of traumatic injury. A bloody area, about the size of a large trash can lid, covered the whale’s sternum.

Aside from that, says Johnson

“It’s in really great body condition”

Well, apart from being dead, of course.


But for all my facetious comments, the link above does give some interesting detail about what the scientific team did and how they did it.
I’m going to try and remember to pop over to the Marine Mammal Center website once they’ve got some results back and have a look at what they found out. For starters, here’s their version of events.

Just to clarify…

… I don’t hate whales.

There seems to be a large number of readers who are under the misapprehension that I am some sort of whale-hating whale-hater. I can only imagine that this foolish error has been caused by people misreading my posts on the recent whale-related incidents down in Kommetjie.
On Sunday, when I commented on the whole mass beaching incident, I described it as “very sad”. I did that because, in my opinion, it was very sad.
In my second post on the issue, I admit to calling the beached whales “daft bastards”. But that was in response to an “expert” opinion on how they got beached in the first place.
And then, a week after the original incident, I made it very clear that “I like whales“. “I like whales”, I commented. And I did that because I like whales.

Reading back, I simply cannot see where the scurrilous and inaccurate rumours have come from. I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that there is nothing I like to see more than watching magnificent creatures frolicking and cavorting around in the shallows. If there is more than one of them splashing and playing in the waves, that’s even better as far as I am concerned.

Shallow frolicking

I sincerely hope this sets the record straight and we can move on now.

More on those whales

Well, this looks like one of those stories that – much like the whales – isn’t going to go away until a digger picks it up and dumps it on a truck bound for the local landfill site. 

The outcry over what was and what wasn’t done to help the beached creatures, together with the hysteria over what might have caused them to run aground in the first place is amusing, to say the least. And while the experts have stepped back and refused to speculate as to what might have been the reason for the beachings, the Kommetjie eco-massive know exactly what happened.

Is it possible they are telling us that the toxin levels in the water are too high?
By diane on 2009/05/31 03:12:18 PM

It’s possible, Diane, but unlikely. It’s true that whales don’t like toxins, but they like sand even less. Once they ended up on the beach, they were in a bit of a quandary. Sand or toxins, toxins or sand? Whales are notoriously indecisive and it was probably this inability to reach a decision that meant that they dried out to the consistency of Pick n Pay biltong while still considering their limited options.

Harrold has other ideas:

Their primary means of communicating, navigating, locating food, and remaining healthy is through the use of sounds. Their sound frequencies are as necessary to them as breathing is to us. It is their lifeline…

No, Harrold. Breathing is as necessary to them as breathing is to us. That is their lifeline.

So if you want to know what is causing the whales to beach themselves you need to look at who has been making a noise in the ocean lately…
By Harrold on 2009/06/01 02:49:00 PM

Well, according to you, Harrold, it’s the whales. So they only have themselves to blame then. Daft bastards.

Hi i arrived at Kommetjie beach at 10am and at 1pm when i left after watching how it was going to be for the whales, the helpers and the people watching. why did the Navy which is 2 mins away come and help with tugsm divers and support to help the helpers already there. it does not makes sense for the whales to not get the helped that we could of given them, 2009 this is not 1909, if it were people to be helped there would be many heli and boats. come of people. and the amount of people that were just watching and getting in the way, why didnt you get you feet wet????
By karen on 2009/05/30 07:30:35 PM

Now, I can sense that Karen is a bit upset. (It’s a gift I have). However, I do have to take her to task over a couple of her comments. I’ll let her appalling punctuation slide, just this once. 

The Navy is not two minutes away. Except by jet. 
And if the Navy had turned up in a jet, Harrold would have been even more annoyed by the whole noise thing.

Also, I have been in innumerable situations where there have been many hundreds of people lying on beaches in the Western Cape – Camps Bay in early January springs immediately to mind. There were people drying out in the sun all over the sand and at no time did “many heli and boats” come to help them. In fact, I’d venture that if “helpful” people had tried to roll them into the water, they would have swum straight back onto the beach. Much like the whales. Then the authorities would have shot them and taken them off to a landfill site. (That last bit might not be quite right).

Talking of “getting in the way”, Karen – it sounds like you were one of the people who were on the beach against the wishes of the authorities. Authorities who had a plethora of rubber ducks and whale stretchers, but couldn’t get near enough the whales to actually use them. Just saying.

P.S. Technical question:
These “whale stretchers” that everyone is going on about – how does stretching a beached whale help? And what qualifications do you need to be a professional whale stretcher? It sounds like a great job.

Sunday evening quota post

I am literally shaking with lack of sleep. Or it could be lack of red wine. Or lack of hot weather.

On days like today – grey, overcast, chilly and damp – it’s sometimes difficult to remember the heady days of summer, even though they were here with us just a few short weeks ago. Here’s a quick reminder of those warmer times with Alex and I splashing in the shallows at Struisbaai.   

Of course, these days, the beaches of the Western Cape are much more famous for beached whales.

Surfers in South Africa are being warned to watch out for sharks off the coast of Cape Point where the carcasses of 55 whales are beached.
The stranded whales were found at Kommetjie Beach.
Hundreds of volunteers had tried to push the False Killer whales back out to sea – around a dozen of them later died of exhaustion and stress while 40 more were shot by authorities.
Although the authorities are clearing the carcasses, Ian Klopper of the National Sea Rescue Institute warned people to be on their guard because sharks may be looking for the whale carcasses.

The official line is that the authorities were shooting the whales because their cries of distress were attracting more whales onto the beach. However, it seems more likely that the whales were shot because South Africans enjoy shooting things and this was too big an opportunity – and too big a target – to miss. Like fish in a barrel. Sort of. 

Obviously, this sort of thing is very sad. No-one likes to see 55 whales dying on a beach. However, I do feel that the criticism of the council response by the local tree-huggers was a little melodramatic:

Carol Brown, formerly with the Durban dolphinarium, said Cape Town was clearly not geared for a mass stranding.
“There should have been rubber ducks and whale stretchers.”

Of course there should, Carol. Unfortunately, the 2009 rubber duck and whale stretcher budget was apparently cut after there were precisely zero mass beachings of whales in the last decade in Cape Town and was spent on something slightly more worthwhile; like building houses for those people living in shacks and providing food for hungry children.
Do make a submission to the City Finance Department for an increased rubber duck and whale stretcher budget for next year though, won’t you? Or better still, move back to Durban and waste their bloody oxygen instead of ours.