Indonesia: Low oxygen levels, salinity cause of beached pilot whales

Wahyoe Boediwardhana The Jakarta Post 16 Jun 16;

Cast ashore – East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) officials work with one of the short-finned pilot whales on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the BKSDA East Java/-)

Decreased oxygen levels and water salinity are thought to be among the causes that led dozens of short-finned pilot whales to wash up on a beach in Randupitu village, Gending district, Probolinggo regency, East Java, on Wednesday.

Data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Juanda, Surabaya, reveals that it was likely that strong currents in the northern Java Sea had carried the pilot whales ashore.

According to the data, strong winds of more than 28 knots caused high seas with 2 to 3.5 meter waves. The high waves also caused oxygen level decreases deep below the surface and lowered water salinity, which was accompanied with a sea level rise.

The BMKG added that these three elements had led deep water fish to migrate to the surface, leading many of them to become stuck in shallow waters.

As reported earlier, 32 pilot whales were found on the beach in Randupitu village, around 106 kilometers east of Surabaya on Wednesday.

Trapped – Several short-finned pilot whales stuck in shallow waters in Probolinggo, East Java, on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the BKSDA East Java/-)

Head of the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BBKSDA) Ayu Dewi Utari said that as of noon on Thursday, nine of the pilot whales had died due to lack of oxygen. “Seven whales were found dead on the Randupitu village beach while two others were found at Bentar beach, around 5 kilometers west of the location where the pod of pilot whales were first found,” said Ayu.

ProFauna Indonesia activist Rosek Nursahid said the reason the whales had become beached was not yet known.

However, he added that whales generally became trapped in shallow waters for one of four reasons.

“The most possible reason is, the group of whales were foraging for food, which had accumulated in the shallow water. They were then carried by strong currents onto the beach and then could not return to the deep sea,” said Rosek.

A team of veterinarians from the University of Airlangga, Surabaya, have been dispatched to remove the dead whales and perform an autopsy to reveal the cause of their deaths. (ebf)

Dozens of whales stranded on East Java coast, 15 likely dead
The Jakarta Post 16 Jun 16;

Dozens of pilot whales have beached on the coast of East Java, discovered on Wednesday by residents in Probolinggo, East Java. The giant marine mammals are thought to have become stranded due to changes in the sea temperature.

The short-finned pilot whales were seen around the shore on Wednesday afternoon. Most managed to return to the sea but returned to shore as one had become stuck, leaving them all trapped by the sudden low tide.

Wahid, the Maritime Resources Management Office head, said at least 32 pilot whales had been found stranded. Seven of them were less than two meters in length and the local fishermen had tied them to prevent them getting washed further ashore.

"Approximately 25 whales came ashore around the estuary, 15 of these whales are not moving and are likely dead […] the colony may have been searching for cooler waters but got stranded," he said as quoted by in Jakarta on Wednesday night.

The local residents have taken the deceased whales to land, through the creek, for burial. According to local tradition, the residents must hold a burial for dead whales as they believe that whales purposely come ashore to end their journey.

“What do you expect us to do? If they are still alive, we will surely help them return to deep sea. The dead ones, we must bury them,” said the Pesisir village chief Sanemo. (ags)

32 Pilot Whales Stranded, 10 Die After Beaching Themselves on East Java Coast
Jakarta Globe 16 Jun 16;

Probollingo, East Java. At least ten out of the 32 pilot whales which were washed up on beaches near Probolinggo in East Java had died, authorities confirmed on Thursday (16/06).

Probolinggo Maritime and Fisheries Agency head Deddy Isfandi told Antara news agency 32 whales had beached themselves on a beach near the village of Randu Pitu in the Gending subdistrict on Wednesday afternoon.

The whales—found by local residents—were three to five meters in length.

“Ten of the beached whales had died. They were found on beaches near Randu Pitu, Gending, Dringu and Bentar,” Deddy said.

The agency with the help of local residents tried to rescue the whales by pushing them back into the ocean on Wednesday night, but some of the stranded whales were too weak to swim out to sea and had drifted back to shallow waters by Thursday morning.

Marine biologists from Surabaya’s Airlangga University are in the area to work out why the pilot whales had ended up washed up on the beaches.

There is speculation that the whales had beached themselves after they got disoriented by recent extreme weather changes.

“Once the scientists are done with their research, the dead whales will be buried near the beach where they were stranded,” Deddy said, adding that whales had rarely been seen in the oceans off Probolinggo.

Rescuers struggle to save beached whales in Indonesia
Indonesian rescuers worked on Thursday to save a pod of beached whales that got trapped in a mangrove swamp at low tide, fisheries officials said.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian rescuers worked on Thursday to save a pod of beached whales that got trapped in a mangrove swamp at low tide, fisheries officials said.

Villagers in the area in the east of Java island were helping fisheries staff trying to lead the 30 or so whales, most of which were believed to be young pilot whales, back to sea.

Several of the whales had died after being hurt in the shallows and many of the others were weak, officials said.

"The residents are trying to push the active whales back toward deeper water ... but some are still stuck," Deddy Isfandi, a fisheries official in the coastal town of Probolinggo, told media.

Another fisheries official, Wahid Noor Azis, told Reuters seven of the whales were calves while the biggest of the adults was up to four metres (13 feet) long.

The officials said they did not know why the animals ventured into the mangrove swamp. Residents said whales were rarely seen in the area.

Whale beachings, while unusual, have been seen in other parts of Indonesia.

This year, a four-tonne, 16-metre (52 foot) sperm whale was found dead on a beach on the resort island of Bali.

(Reporting by Angie Teo; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel)

- Reuters

Dead pilot whales buried in mass grave in E. Java
The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Local people in a village in Probolinggo, East Java, held a traditional funeral for 12 short-finned pilot whales on Friday that died after being beached on the coast.

Not only were the tails of the whales covered in shrouds, locals also put up a gravestone and spread flowers on to the mass grave. Local people also chanted tahlil (prayers for the dead) for seven days in accordance with Javanese tradition.

The treatment was to uphold an ancient tradition passed down for generations, Pesisir village chief of Probolinggo Sanemo said on Friday as reported by Burying whales or sharks like humans had long been the tradition of the village, he added.

The 12 short-finned pilot whales were buried in one 30-square-meter hole not too far from the location where they were stranded.

Probolinggo Maritime and Fisheries Agency used an excavator to move the dead whales to the grave. Hundreds of people came to witness the burial process.

At least 32 pilot whales came ashore in the Probolinggo coast on Wednesday. Those that survived have been returned back to the sea. (rin)

The whales and the people
Aman Rochman Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

A recent unexpected visit from 32 pilot whales has recalled century-old local wisdom through which the giant sea mammals are venerated.

Amid the rumbling sound of northern sea waves, residents were thronging to the shoreline as the tide ebbed in the afternoon recently to watch dozens of pilot whales being washed ashore in Pesisir village, 15 kilometers east of Probolinggo, East Java.

Local residents showered the 32 giant mammals with sea water while waiting for the tide to run high to make their effort easier.

The rescue effort is part of an old local belief that venerates whales, dolphins and other sea creatures.

Descendants of the ethnic Madura group living in the northern coastal areas of East Java — Probolinggo, Bondowoso and Situbondo regencies — dare not hurt or consume the meat of these sea mammals and big fish for fear of karmic consequences and retribution.

If anyone in the area hurts or kills these animals by accident when fishing, the local community will hold a prayer ritual to ensure their safety by inviting neighbors in the afternoon or evening of the same day.

This time, however, the village residents encountered a different species of sea mammals.

Pilot whales have never before been swept onto the edge of the sea, especially not in such a large number, Pesisir village head Supeno said.

He said only this time had pilot whales been stranded as far as coastal downstream and mangrove areas.

“What we have mostly seen stranded here are whale sharks with white spots,” added Supeno.

The appearance of whales and dolphins is unpredictable, Supeno said, whereas white-spotted whale sharks have more often drifted ashore, ranging from yearly to every three years.

As part of their respect for the sea creatures, local fishermen will stop their work when whales, dolphins and whale sharks arrive and provide transportation services for residents wishing to witness the sea mammals and big fish swimming back to the sea.

“When sea mammals and big fish show up, we’re blessed with extra income from the rental fees for carrying people by boat. We dare not use fishing nets or rods for fear of hurting the animals,” said M. Nurhasan, a fisherman.

The rescue effort for the pilot whales lasted until night. At 8 p.m., as the tide was rising, villagers and volunteers along with soldiers using lamps and rubber boats managed to release 20 pilot whales out of the 32, enabling them to swim into the sea.

The other 12, comprising young whales 2 to 4 meters long, failed to escape for being entangled in mangrove roots. Their long struggle with hot weather and a lack of sea water immersion eventually caused their death.

The villagers then prepared a mass grave for the 12 pilot whales to be buried.

“The whale funeral follows the tradition of Pesisir village. It is conducted in the way a human funeral ceremony is carried out,” Supeno explained.

During the unique funeral, which also attracted neighboring villagers, local people contributed shrouds and tombstones, and later scattered petals and offered prayers for the deaths of the 12 whales.

They were praying to God, pleading for protection in connection with the death of pilot whales as well as for blessings so that the yield in their fishing operations would be abundant.

It seems that the local fishermen will keep protecting the giant sea animals as part of their big ancestral family’s cultural wisdom and tradition of respecting all living things, no matter how small or big.

— photo by Aman Rochman