[imagesource: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP]
The oceans are definitely trying to tell us something.
Or, considering all the talk around the documentaries shedding light on the health of the oceans and the problems in the fishing industry, maybe it’s just us starting to listen.
To really drive this point home, an Antarctic blue whale carcass washed up in Walvis Bay this week and was almost certainly a hit-and-run ship strike, according to Dr Simon Elwen, the director of the Namibian Dolphin Project (NDP), who spoke to the Mail & Guardian.
The Antarctic blue whale carcass was massive – 18m long. Although, they can reach up to 30 metres.
The whale is on the critically endangered species list and is so rare that this could be the first-ever recorded stranding of this species on the continent since commercial whaling ended in 1985, say conservationists.
Additionally, according to Elwin, there have been fewer than 10 sightings of live blue whales around Southern Africa to date, mostly off western South Africa and Namibia, despite observers doing the utmost to spot them.
A local tour operator, Laramon Tours, was the first to spot the dead whale in the bay on April 26.
Laramon Tours immediately reported it to the NDP and the next day, the carcass washed ashore and samples were taken.
It’s not clear why the whale was so close to shore as they are usually found a lot further out, according to the NDP.
Although, there is a lot about them that is still poorly understood, like their seasonal migrations and breeding and feeding grounds.
Experts agree that the whale was likely the victim of a ship strike:
“It looks like the ship hit the flank, then the animal was rolled and the fin was broken too. It likely died very quickly,” he said, adding, “We have no idea of what hit that whale. It was a fresh animal, it wasn’t bloated. In the port, there’s a lot of boat traffic in and out of there.”
The NDP said that ship strikes are increasingly common in local and global waters because both whale and ship numbers are on the rise:
“Ship strikes are increasing around Southern Africa but it’s sort of in line with increases in whale populations,” Elwen said. “Whale numbers are getting more; ships are getting more.”
“There’s certainly anecdotal evidence,” Elwen told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday. “It’s in very low numbers — one or two a year. The evidence is that it’s not significantly affecting our local populations of any kind of whales, but certainly it is a growing concern, especially around the Western Cape where we have lots of whales year-round.
The good news is that whale populations are increasing:
Acoustic monitoring in deep waters off the southwestern Cape and northern Namibia has revealed regular detection of blue-whale calls over winter months “revealing that the animals are still using these areas where they were historically caught, supporting overall population recovery”, the NDP said.
But this also comes with a downside, as it means that we could be looking at more fatalities or injuries and with whales getting tangled in nets, or falling victim to plastic pollution, and ship strikes, “not to mention the impacts of overfishing and habitat change”, Elwen said.
Perhaps it’s high time that we move from just listening to helping, too.
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