July 30, 2021

Sri Lanka Faces Its Largest Mass Beaching of Whales With Success



Washing over 100 whales ashore on the Pandaura beach, Colombo in Sri Lanka recently became a strange phenomenon for ordinary people as they do not experience such occurrences usually in Sri Lanka though it is surrounded by sea. At the same time, it became a shocking feeling to the people interested in environmental related issues whereas it became a thrilling feeling for other people. However, the reason behind the beaching of whales, has remained ambiguous.

Type of the whales that washed ashore

It has been identified by the marine biologists in Sri Lanka that the type of whales that beached on the Pandaura coast was Short-finned pilot whales. These species that are often found in tropical and temperate oceans are one of the two species of pilot whale called the long-finned pilot whale. They are almost the same but vary in size, features, coloration, and pattern.

It has been analysed that there are estimated 648,600 short-finned pilot whales in different parts of waters in the world. They can be abundantly seen in the eastern tropical Pacific waters. In addition, they are 2,200 to 6,600 pounds in weight and 12 to 24 feet in length. Short-finned pilot whales also have a lifespan of 35 to 60 years.

It should be noted that pilot whales are identified as one of the most common species to be vulnerable to mass strandings. The reason behind these phenomena is not fathomed but might be attributed to disease, illness or geomagnetic disorientation.

These species are also under threat in terms of vessel strikes, entanglement and harvest.

The rescue operation

image: theguardian.com

It is much fitting to underline the collective job done by Sri Lankan Navy, Coast Guard and local people in safely releasing these whales stranded since November 2 evening on the Panadura coast back to the sea. It was a tremendous effort, which ended up producing positive results after an 18-hour rescue operation.

According to Sri Lanka Navy Spokesperson Captain Indika De Silva, four whales and one dolphin died during the operation but the rescuers were managed to return the other wales amounting to 115 back to the sea without any harm. Captain also noted that a group of 30 each from the Navy, volunteers from the Coast Guard and a Rapid Response Team from the Kalutara Naval Detachment participated in the operation apart from the support extended by villagers.

image : bbc.com

It should be noted that the rescuers, had to work overnight with sweat and toil to return the whales without harm and for that, they should be awarded. When talking about the rescue operation, it can be said that the Navy and Coast Guard personnel must have done it as a part of their profession; however, the support of villagers who voluntarily joined hands with other rescuers in the endeavour was immense and invaluable. This is a classic example of Sri Lanka partnership and unity.   

Reasons explained

As it was said earlier, the reason for beaching these animals has not been specifically explained. There could be theories for this. However, according to Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, Marine Biologist in Sri Lanka, this occurrence could be a way of responding to the Earth’s magnetic field.

Apart from this, the whales are known as highly social animals and if one or more of them gets stranded, other whales would also come near the stranded one and this is owing to navigational problems. There is also speculation that these whales move away towards shallow waters due to the higher frequency sounds released from submarines and other vessels.

Having said that, there’s a high likelihood for the reason to be a man-made one as nobody speaks about ocean noise pollution. It is evident that people use high-frequency sonar to detect gas and oil deposits, which has posed a massive threat to ocean species including whales. When studying the population of short-finned pilot whales in Sri Lanka, the marine experts are of the opinion that there is no population statistics available as yet.

Same Occasions Reported in Sri Lanka

Meanwhile, it was reported that there were two other occasions, where Sri Lanka experienced a similar phenomenon in 2011 and 2017 at the Trincomalee harbour and off the north-eastern coast respectively. However, the two incidents were not in the spotlight as the whales that washed ashore were very limited in number.  

This phenomenon is also visible in other parts of the world; as for instance, a total of hundred whales died on the coast of Tasmania in Australia in last September as a result of mass beaching of whales.

by staff contributor



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