Environmental pollution is one of the major causes of death among whales. Nevertheless, recent developments and massive deaths caused by beaching of whales point out to possible other factors that lead to these deaths. Key among them is suicide. Witnessing whales and dolphins die can be an overwhelming experience. I still get a small fever when I remember the first time I witnessed the horrific death of these creatures at Harro Strait, in Washington.
Nonetheless, the reason behind these deaths is mysterious. Most recently, nine pilot whales died in Indonesia Java Island after they beached themselves. According to Ay Dewi, who works at the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency, between 29 and 35 whales started washing up during the high tides that occurred on Wednesday. By Thursday, most of these whales had been beached. In fact, it was only through the efforts of the local residents that most of the whales were saved. Notably, this phenomenon is not unique to Indonesia. A similar issue was reported in Calais where ten pilot whales became beached.
While some deaths caused by beaching are easy to solve, especially where the animals are sick, most of the recent cases are puzzling. Generally, when whales are too sick they head to shores since they are too weak to swim. Alternatively, they are pushed onto the shores by strong tides, which they are unable to resist due to their frail body.
An Ocean Mystery-Self Harm?
Illness, injury, and error are not the only cause of these deaths. In fact, most of the recent incidences involve healthy animals, which appear unaffected by any of these factors. In particular, the recent deaths of the pilot whales in Calais are a good example. Notably, these deaths point out to the possibility of suicide. If suicide is the case, then, why would a healthy whale put itself into such danger?
While the most common assumption has been that these whales die while trying to save a member of their own group, recent studies have nullified this argument. To begin with, DNA studies of most stranded whales have shown that they are usually unrelated. Noteworthy, whales normally live in a family setup. Consequently, those that have different DNA’s are usually unrelated. In light of this, it is unlikely that they may be stranded while trying to rescue a beached family member. As a result, it is likely that most incidences of beaching are attempts to commit suicide.
What Can Humans Do to Save Avoid This Situation
In practice, a complete avoidance of suicide by whales is impossible. Nevertheless, human beings should strive to provide an environment that is friendly for these creatures. Key among such measures is avoiding sound pollution. According to US researchers, the low rumbling noise of ships, which occur at medium and high frequencies, affect the hearing ability of whales. In fact, whales such as the orcas hear at 20,000 Hz, which is within this range.
Basically, the noise pollution affects the whale’s ability to echolocate and to communicate. Notably, dolphins and whales use this method to identify where they are. The main concern with ships producing sounds at this range is that it makes calves be separated from their mothers. Essentially, this results in the death of either one of them since they accidentally become beached while searching for the lost member in shallow waters. Similarly, high-frequency noises produced by ships scare away whales and make them unable to hunt. According to Scott Veirs of Beamreach, ships passing through Haro Strait in Washington produce an average of 173 underwater decibels of noise. These high levels of noise may make the whales to swim in small groups in order to hear each other. In effect, they are unable to hunt for prey, which makes them starve. As a result, they use the energy stored in their blubber and once they exhaust this source, they die.
While we have made a lot of progress in protecting the whales, in truth, we are still far from the desired levels. On a positive note, the US federal government has secured nearly 40,000 square miles of the Atlantic to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Meanwhile, the increased appetite for whaling by Japan is posing an increased threat to whales in Antarctic waters. In light of this, governments should collaborate when form laws on maritime since the problem on whales is a global affair.