Indonesia: Four of 10 beached whales in Aceh die

Gemma Holiani Cahya and Hotli Simanjuntak The Jakarta Post 14 Nov 17;

Four out of 10 sperm whales that were beached at Ujong Kareung Beach in Aceh Besar regency in Aceh died in the early morning on Tuesday while the rest had been taken back to open waters.

Around 50 rescuers from various offices were deployed since Monday to release the whales, with support from local people acting as volunteers.

“They were stranded in shallow waters, only two meters deep. So it was hard for us to release them,” Head of Lampulo PSDKP Basri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

He explained that the first three whales had died before being taken back into the sea.

“We released seven of them to the sea this morning, but one of them returned to the beach again, dead. We are still monitoring the other six, making sure they will not strand themselves again,” Basri said.

Along with three ships from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, local fishermen lent their boats to help with the release and monitoring of the whales, as some of them suffered wounds after hitting rocks on the beach.

Local people had flocked to the beach since Monday to witness the stranded whales. They took pictures and shared live video via various social media platforms.

Marine and Fisheries Campaign Coordinator for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia Aryo Tjiptohandono told the Post that in a lot of cases, beached whales that have been released will die due to their wounds.

“Crowd control around the area is very important to reduce the stress level of the whales,” he said.

Indonesian volunteers save six beached whales
Reuters 13 Nov 17;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian volunteers managed to save six whales beached on the northern tip of Sumatra but four died, a conservation official said on Tuesday.

The rescuers worked late into Monday night to free six of 10 massive sperm animals using ropes and patrol boats and turn them back into the waters off Aceh province.

“Some people got injured on the coral and the high tide was also an obstacle but we tried our best,” said Sapto Aji Prabowo, head of the Aceh conservation agency.

“It is an important lesson for us on how to evacuate such huge animals if it happens again.”

Prabowo said it was not known why the sperm whales, which among the biggest mammals on the planet, had washed up in shallow water.

“We plan to collect samples from the dead whales to determine the cause of death and for future research,” he said.

Officials will bury the dead whales as soon as possible as there is a risk of gases building up and causing the carcasses to explode.

Earlier this year, authorities in New Zealand had to cut holes in hundreds of pilot whales that washed up on beaches on the South Island to keep them from bloating and exploding.

“If we leave them there to rot, that could also cause disease,” said Prabowo.

Volunteers will use excavators to move and bury the animals. An adult sperm whale can grow up to 12 meters and weigh up to 57 tonnes.

Though unusual, whale beachings have been seen in other parts of Indonesia, a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands.

In 2016, 29 pilot whales were briefly trapped in a mangrove swamp off the eastern coast of Java, but managed to free themselves or were helped back out to sea by fishermen.

Officials previously said 12 whales had been stranded in Aceh.

A Race to Save 10 Stranded Whales
CHRISTINA CARONNOV New York Times 13 Nov 17;

Rescuers in Indonesia worked late into Monday night to rescue a pod of sperm whales that had become stranded in the shallow waters of an island near the northwest tip of Sumatra in Aceh Province.

The 10 whales were spotted Monday morning, according to Whale Stranding Indonesia, a marine mammal conservation organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia, that has been monitoring the rescue on its Facebook page.

Local officials, aided by nonprofits like World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, coordinated a rescue effort using nets, tarpaulins and boats, the group said.

As daylight gave way to darkness on Ujung Kareung beach, the rescuers didn’t give up. As of about midnight local time they were still working, Whale Stranding Indonesia told The New York Times via a Facebook message.

Earlier in the day, the rescuers successfully relocated five of the whales to deeper water, Nur Mahdi, the head of the Aceh Province marine and fisheries office in Sumatra, told The Associated Press. They are also treating two injured whales and attempting to refloat the others, he said.

“The team seems to be determined to work during night time to release the remaining whales,” Whale Stranding Indonesia reported.

Two more whales were released just before sunrise, the group said, according to an official from the Center for Coastal and Marine Resources Management, the regional marine and fisheries authority in Indonesia.

Time was of the essence in this situation, in part because whales that come near land are at risk of suffocation and organ failure.

“If you’re 60,000 pounds and your body is meant to float around then gravity can take its toll,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the director of the North American office of Whale and Dolphins Conservation, a nonprofit that has assisted with whale strandings in the United States.

In addition, the shock of being stranded evokes a stress response.

“Elevated levels of adrenaline also take toll on the organs,” Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said. It’s similar to that of a human that has been in a car accident, she added.

It’s unclear why the pod of whales swam so close to shore. Sperm whales, which are listed as an endangered species, are the largest of the toothed whales. They are not usually found in waters less than 984 feet deep, and prefer areas two times deeper than that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

In February, more than 650 pilot whales became stranded at the northern tip of South Island in New Zealand for reasons that were also unknown, and about 400 of them died. Pathologists hoped to find answers by studying some of the dead animals.

And in April, officials said they were investigating an “alarming” number of humpback whale strandings along the Atlantic coast.

There are multiple reasons these events can happen, Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said, including navigational error, changes in the environment, a wayward hunt for food or tidal changes.

Sperm whales tend to travel as a group and are unlikely to abandon their podmates.

“When they’re in tight social groups they’re in this together,” Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said.

Whales are especially important to the ecosystem, she said, because their waste fertilizes phytoplankton, the plants that produce half the world’s oxygen.