Whale strandings

From: Howard Garrett (tokitae@pugetsound.net)
Date: Tue Feb 22 2000 - 12:02:00 EST

I am researching into Whale strandings, particually whether or not we should
help stranded whales. I'm looking for scientific opinions on this, and also
any information on success rates of humans helping stranded whales. Your
help would be very appreciated.


Jess Howell

Dear Jess,

        I'm afraid you are asking for a scientific opinion on a moral question.
There are a variety of opinions about whether and how to help stranded
whales. The consensus seems to be to try to help in any way possible, but
some strategies are quite controversial. In New Zealand, where strandings
are quite common along certain shores, Frank Robson has proposed a strategy
based on his observation that strandings usually occur in stages that may
take up to 24 hours to unfold. Robson says that when pilot whales or other
odontocetes strand, usually only one or a few are immobilized on the beach
in the early stages. The rest of the community tends to remain close by and
gradually, in small groups, they will head for the beach and strand
themselves. Robson's solution is to euthanize the first individuals that
arrive on the beach, according to the theory that once the distress cries
of the first victims are silenced, their bonds with the others are broken,
allowing the majority of the community to swim away.

        For information on success rates I suggest you consult the New England
Aquarium Stranding Network, which has been involved in many strandings on
Cape Cod. They even once rescued two young pilot whales from a stranding,
nursed them back to health and released them six months later, whereupon
they rejoined a community of pilot whales.

Howard Garrett
Tokitae Orca Conservation Foundation
2403 So. North Bluff Rd.
Greenbank WA 98253
(360) 678-3451

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