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23 Oct Humpback whale stranding, Ponta do Ouro Marine Reserve, Mozambique

WCA Partner Angie Gullan from Dolphin Encountours Research Center (DERC) recently attended to a stranded humpback whale on the beach in Ponta do Ouro. The whale was reported alive at sunrise and so the call put out to operators and locals in the event the whale could be refloated.

When Angie arrived a growing number of people could be seen gathering around the whale that was lying in the waves.

Angie had been corresponding with Dr Jennifer Olbers from KZN Marine Stranding Network regarding a pending workshop in the reserve after a guest had mentioned attending a workshop in KwaZulu Natal after the WCA World Whale Conference in Durban 2017. An assessment of the whale was undertaken with Dr Olbers over the phone. It was concluded that the whale was in poor health, given its body condition, the large presence of whale lice, shallow irregular breathing and unresponsiveness. With this in mind the decision was made not to attempt to re-float as this would cause more stress and the team let the whale pass on peace. While perhaps the right one, it was a difficult and painful call to make.

Once the whale had died Angie and a team of volunteers went about collecting measurements and taking blubber and skin samples for analysis. While this was happening a Reserve Guard assisted with translating the situation to the growing crowd. It is a fact of life that in these regions strandings of animals like this will be harvested for food. With the team finding themselves ill equipped to deal with this type of stranding on a popular beach and with a growing amount of pressure and tension from the local populace the decision was made to let the harvest begin. The team made it clear that they did not know why the whale had died and consumption of meat was at one’s own risk.

By 4pm in the shoreline was littered with blubber. All that remained was a carcass washing around in the incoming tide. An increase in shark activity was expected and confirmed at sunset when a number of sharks were filmed in the shore break.

Angie and DERC would like to thank all the volunteers who helped with this momentous task.

Angie and the team at DERC are looking to set up a stranding response team and will be finalising training with Dr Olbers in the near future, in order to be able to better deal with these events. DERC will be looking for sponsorship to have on hand the necessary safety gear and equipment.

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