Eighteen pilot whales washed up on Noordhoek beach last night, Saturday 23 March, in heavy swells and surging surf.
We have just returned from the beach where volunteers, marine officials, Cape Nature personnel, police, sea rescue personnel and others are doing their best to keep the fourteen whales still alive wet and calm. Adults and children are running from the surf with buckets of sea water to pour over the stricken mammals lying spread across the beach covered in wet towels.
On our way home we passed at least six flatbed trucks on their way to Noordhoek beach. The intention is to transport the whales to Hout Bay where they will be released into the calmer waters of the bay.
At the end o May 2009 55 pilot whales beached themselves on Long Beach Kommetjie, also in rough seas. After a day of desperate but unsuccessful attempts to return the stranded whales to the ocean, the mammals were euthanized. This caused a public outcry, although many agreed that it was the best option.
Officials were hopeful that the pilot whales scattered along the length of Noordhoek beach will be successfully returned to the ocean.
There are two species of pilot whales, the long finned pilot whales which live in cold waters and the short finned whales which live in the warmer waters of the tropics and subtropics. They are the second largest members of the dolphin family, after the killer whale. It is extremely difficult to tell the long-finned and short-finned whales apart.
Although they feed mainly on squid, they also feed on fish. Studies have also shown that they are very sociable with males and females remaining within their mothers’ pods. However there does not seem to be inbreeding within a pod. They live in groups of 10 to 30 individuals but some groups may number up to 100. Adult females tend to outnumber the adult males in a pod. They give birth to a calf once every 3-5 years after a 12-15 month gestation period. The calves are nursed by their mothers for three years.
It is not unusual for pilot whales to beach themselves. Their natural lifespan is about 45 years for males and 60 years for females. Because of their social bonds, whole groups will strand at once. One of the hypotheses for mass strandings is that they may be the result of geo-magnetic anomalies upsetting the whales’ magnetic navigation. It has also been suggested that the pod may follow a prime member of the group who becomes stranded.
Viv von der Heyden.
Info sbout the pilot whales from Wikipedia