By now you have probably heard about rarest spade-toothed whales that were found stranded on Opape Beach in New Zealand in December 2010 (link). The findings were published in Current Biology (link) and the media went crazy on reporting about “the rarest beaked whales in the world”. With great sadness we observe this circus and also the fact that not a single media outlet attempted to look deeper and discuss what this all means.
From our point of view what happened on December 2010 on that NZ beach is the worst possible nightmare came true: the world rarest whales stranded alive and NOTHING WAS DONE TO SAVE THEM. NZ Department of Conservation did what they usually do with stranded beaked whales: nothing. Besides they thought these mom and calf were Gray’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon grayi) so it was not a big deal.
Little did they know that they blew a chance to save not one but two rarest spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii) in the world. But it was not some rare occurrence, rather it was the logical conclusion of how stranded alive whales are handled in New Zealand and worldwide.
Beaked whales are not rescued, period. Nobody bothers, nobody cares, even if it is a rarest whale in the world this fact will not change the frame of mind of the rescuers nor their policy. And this is what makes us absolutely outraged. Beaked whales are thought to be impossible to rescue because of their myoglobin situation (read our previous post here and see that there is a drug that can be used to stop damage, yet nobody gives crap to try it). So everyone takes this as an excuse to do nothing for them.
This situation also raises another serious concern as of who and why exactly gives New Zealand Department of Conservation (that is well known for its extremely poor rescuing statistics) and local NZ rescues like Project Jonah the AUTHORITY to decide what to do with rarest whales in the world. We have written about this situation before (read here): while anyone has to jump through hoops to obtain permit to do anything with any wild cetacean, some random “marine medic” (which is actually a volunteer), rescue worker or some random NZ DOC worker can just casually stroll on that beach and decide that this whale or dolphin is not worth saving and should be left to die or killed. There is no peer review, no discussion, no critique, no evaluation, rescues are given FULL AUTHORITY to decide what to do and nobody questions their decisions. But why exactly? And more importantly why is it no bueno to criticize them and why no review is done to evaluate what they have been doing all these years?
Next, another important fact was completely ignored by the media, namely why these two rarest whales stranded. According to our records there have been several live strandings of beaked whales in NZ and Australia in December 2010 and in mid-November there was a near stranding of 50 pilot whales near Whangarei’s coast. Has anyone investigated anthropogenic factors that could have led to these strandings? Of course not. Even though beaked whales are known to strand because of human activities and research shows that since 1960s their strandings are on the rise nobody in the media bothered to discuss it. (The work done by Dr. Brownell documented beaked whales’ strandings since 1960s and found that “The beginning of atypical MSEs (mass stranding events) coincided with the start of wide-scale use of tactical mid-frequency sonar by the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s.” (link)
The bottom line is, the media’s reporting is completely misleading and impotent, because they blew the chance to discuss deeper implications of what happened on that NZ beach in 2010, namely:
1. Inability of NZ Department of Conservation and NZ rescues to save live stranded whales (even if these are the rarest whales in the world)
2. Complete lack of desire to change this situation
3. Complete inability and lack of desire to specifically research and attempt to save stranded beaked whales in NZ and worldwide
4. What do anthropogenic influences mean for rarest whales and the world and frankly all other whales in the world
5. With current increase in strandings in NZ and worldwide the complete inability to respond in effective and life-saving way
6. Why the authority is given to few people (who are often unqualified and lack proper education and background) to make decisions of such magnitude and why nobody evaluates and questions these people.
Important Note: NZ DOC tries now to say that both whales died on their own but we strongly suspect that both were killed by DOC or at least the calf was killed by DOC because this is what is routinely done with stranded calves in NZ and worldwide, read more about dare situation with cetaceans’ orphans here.