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Dolphin: False Killer whales

Find, identify & discuss the marine species of SANParks
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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by CuriousCanadian » Sat May 30, 2009 6:23 pm

"Nan Rice, head of the Dolphin Action and Protection group said a decision had been made to put down part of a group of 55 false killer whales that could not be moved back into the sea.
Rice said the whales, which weigh 4 600-5 500kg and grow to 4.6-5.5m long, probably stranded because of a "navigational error"."

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by DinkyBird » Sat May 30, 2009 6:24 pm

According to the news report, a pod of whales will beach themselves if one is ill and beaches itself.

Amazing to watch the folk there trying so hard to save these whales :clap:
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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by TheunsH » Sun May 31, 2009 1:36 pm

This is a very emotional and debatable question…why do whales beach themselves?

Let’s start of by asking the question…Why do whales die when beached? The smallest species of whales weigh in at several tons.
They die from overheating and from the crushing weight of their bodies.
Usually the whale’s body weight is too much and that suffocates it with its respiratory muscles incapable of sufficiently dilating its rib cage to ensure adequate pulmonary ventilation.

Also, circulation of the animal's body that is in contact with the ground is blocked by the animal's weight, causing tissues to die.

Whales on the beach struggling to survive are not a pleasant experience, and people are very emotional about this issue trying to save these beached whales.
Even if the animal is returned to the water, these dead tissues may produce toxins leading to generalized infection and death.

In many instances whales will return beaching themselves after been saved, and believes are that they return due to the distress calls from the other whales still in distress.
Whales are highly social animals.

There are no easy answers to the question of why whales beach?
Many causes have been researched and one explanation involves the whale "pod" social structure.
Whales traveling in pods use a "strength in numbers" survival strategy, but this can backfire when the dominant whale runs aground.
A disoriented or sick dominant whale may be followed onto the beach by the rest of the pod or a pod may venture too close to shore and become trapped by the tides.

Other theories suggest that defects in a whale's navigation system may be the cause of whales beaching, but the fact is that we do not know how whales navigate the vast oceans….it seems to be a very speculative issue.

The fact is that whales do not beach to commit suicide.
Although highly intelligent, it's believe that whales do not have the mental capability to understand a concept like that!

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by Guinea Pig » Sun May 31, 2009 2:02 pm

That is so sad. So euthanasia, however distressing to helpers, is the only humane option? :(
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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by TheunsH » Sun May 31, 2009 10:59 pm

o-dog, the beached whales look like Pilot whales to me, and most reports referred to Pilot whales.

Let’s look at Pilot whales and False Killer whales.

Both Pilot whales and False Killer whales are cetacean (mammals best adapted to aquatic life). Both their genus are part of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae).

Pilot Whales are jet black or a very dark grey color. The dorsal fin is set forward on the back and sweeps back. The body is elongated but stocky and narrows abruptly toward the tail fin. Pilot whales have bulbous heads.

False Killer whales are mostly black in colour and don’t have such distinctive bulbous heads as Pilot whales. Furthermore False Killer whales don't have such a distinctive backwards sweeping of their dorsal fins.

False Killer whales are also known to beach…During June 2005 up to 140 (estimates vary) were beached at Geographe Bay, Western Australia. The main pod, which had been split into four separate beachings, was successfully moved back to sea with only one death after the intervention of 1,500 volunteers and in 1970, 150-175 False Killer whales beached themselves on the Atlantic coast of southern Florida and refused to return seaward, despite the best efforts of volunteers. All of the whales subsequently died and the cause of this mysterious event was never determined.

Looking at the photos of the beached whales, the whale’s bulbous heads are clearly visible and that shows the beached whales were Pilot whales.

This whales beaching are a mystery for sure! :hmz:

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by o-dog » Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:32 pm are some pics following the sad scene of the beached Pilot Whales on Kommetjie. If you have been following the story, like on Cape Talk, you would have realised that its quite a controversial one.
As an onlooker who probably shouldnt have been there, I found that infact it was the average resident from the area that got together in groups and at least tried to save the poor whales, while all the authorities did was seem to stand around (from what I saw). The area was poorly controlled for the number of people in high positions there and perhaps a more coordinated approach could have resulted in more success in the excercise of saving these animals. A lot of what I hear on the radio is of people bitching and saying that the volunteers got in the way of authorities.
Well at least if the authorities didnt do anything the volunteers did try. It should have been left to the 'experts' they say...
Well can someone tell me if there is an EXPERT in the subject of beaching whales, probably one of the least understood natural events that takes place!
Either way it looked that this group of whales were not going to swim back out to see....I think probably rightly so, many were put out of there misery. Then people came a complained that they were shooting the whales infront of kids. But why were the kids there, as the area was called out of bounds to the public?? No organisation as well as the public not paying attention to the few police etc that were telling people to leave!
Anyway here are some pics of what went on...I have to say although I windsurf myself, I thought this guy was rather selfish considering what was going on around him...





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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by TheunsH » Tue Jun 02, 2009 10:52 am

Thanks for the photos and report o-dog! :clap: :clap:

It's surely a very sad incident.

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by deidel » Tue Jun 02, 2009 5:29 pm

The animals at Kommetjie were False Killer Whales, and not Long-finned Pilot Whales, as shown by:
-lack of a bulging forehead (bulging in long-finned pilot Whale)
-short pectoral fins (much longer in long-finned pilot Whale, especially in the section beyong the 'elbow' bend)
-lack of pale sadle patch (patch behind the dorsal fin)

Both species relate closely to the much larger Killer Whale (Orca) and actually belong to the Dolphin Family. They often don’t survive beaching, although a recent Australian success story shows that it is possible to save them under the right circumstances. (see

See more thoughts, questions and pictures of the beached whales at Kommetjie on my blog:
http://beachedwhalesshotkommetjiecapeto ...

All best,

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by TheunsH » Tue Jun 02, 2009 8:39 pm

Thank you for the post deidel and a warm welcome from me as well :thumbs_up: :thumbs_up:

I've read you post and the whales beaching was a very sad and tragic event indeed. From the pictures posted by o-dog (especially the last one) and your pictures, posted on your blog, the beached whales seem to be False Killer whales after all.

Thanks for sharing your experiences on your blog. It's strange for me that people, like you, were hindered and stopped by officials trying to help the whales! :hmz:

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by deidel » Tue Jun 02, 2009 10:41 pm

I thought a bit further about the 'humanely euthanising'...

I tend to think of two approaches: either we let nature take its course and let the whales be - even if the beaching was caused by human causes.
Or, we interfere and manage - which is what we tend to do.
Then I see the questions: what will we manage for?
For minimizing pain in the animals, or for trying to rescue individual animals as best we can for the sake of maintaining populations and species - even if the animals may be in pain for longer?

I'm not sure what the population status is for False Killer Whales, but I here assume that it warrants great efforts for trying to save as many as possible individuals.
Should our notion of pain in the animals then really have terminated the huge rescue operation?

(And do we really know how much it is in pain? If we do, should we start shooting someone who just lost its arm)?

Many volunteers and bystanders describe the rescue-operation as chaotic and mismanaged (see other posts in this blog, also see the Cape Times June 2, 2009, page 8).
The authorities asked the rhetorical question: "Would you not want to end an animal's suffering?".
It does sound 'logic and the best option' to do so; who would say 'no'?

Does 'humanely euthanasing' (or 'shooting in the brain') justify ending the rescue operation?
What about focusing on the rescue solution, such as waiting for high tide, providing straps, more blankets and coaching?
Preventing pain in animals doesn't seem to be a pure argument for ending what we tend to manage for: saving populations and species.

Unless perhaps there are enough False Killer Whales anyway, and so only their comfort is what counts to us. In that case, why have considered rescuing beached animals in the first place?

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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by BusyB » Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:35 pm

Hello all and welcome to deidel-great blog.
I am sure you are quite correct on a number of points.
I was there on Sat for many hours in the cold.
I witnessed the enormous human spirit and effort at work and I believe we could have achieved almost anything given the manpower. :clap:
However, many factors were stacked against us and ultimately the whales.
We had returned these whales to the sea before the marine scientists had gotten there, they had re-beached.
Remembering that the sea was rough and it was cold.
We then collected them into one large group in the centre of the beach and a smaller group near the rocks and tried to release them as a pod.
Remember it WAS high tide when we 1st released them, once again they re-beached at that stage spreading themselves further afield.
Instead of a concentrated pod we now had an almost 2km area with whales here and there.
Again we tried with the same result, a couple then died.
It was then decided to bring them closer in-shore during the low tide and keep them comfy ie. on their abdomens so as to best inflate their lungs, keep them facing shore as they were less stressed that way, dig a channel to keep water flowing around them, keep them in small groups etc etc.
The number of volunteers at that stage was huge, the crowd were not listening to officials and keeping beyond the kelp line, some people brought dogs...!
We (NSRI) had 2 injuries with people rolled on by whales one fracturing his knee, 2 near drownings, many people becoming hypothermic and still people would pick up a whale and swim it beyond the breakers to try and try.
Eventually someone was going to get seriously injured or drown.
The crowd were then ordered out of the water as they were too large, over too huge an area and it was too risky.
Many of the animals were injured at that stage, I went around from group to group.
Most were females, many were youngsters and they were separated from their mothers and swam out by helpers...these were suckling youngsters unable to survive alone.
I saw many females with vaginal/rectal prolapses from the straining and abdominal pressure of being on land, these would not have survived if put back.
It became increasingly difficult to control the scene AND many of the animals were in a poor state by then (now 6 hrs later).
It was low tide.
The decision was then taken to euthanase them.
I left at that point, not wishing to witness the shooting-every person on that beach had the same option. Unfortunately many people refused to obey police and do so, somehow believing that if they disobeyed no-one would dare shoot in front of innocent bystanders.
I believe the crowds disobeying did not help and it added to the decision as there was a lack of control. Nobody is however to blame.
Many avenues were investigated but it seemed hopeless at the time with all these creatures turning around straight back to the beach every time.
Losing someone in an effort to save animals that were injured and seemed to just be re-beaching anyway was part of the final decision.
A very hard day indeed.
Pls see Kommetjie Whales group on facebook for further insights, they are trying to solve this for future; god forbid it ever happens again.
:( :(
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Re: False Killer whales beach at Kommetjie

Unread post by bishop3006 » Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:57 pm


Thanks a lot for posting this and giving us an eye-on-the-ground view. Wow, as sad day indeed! :cry: I think we all wish it could have bene so different. I am glad I was not there to witness this. I may be a hunter, who wilfully takes an animal's life in order to utilise that animal, always striving to ensure the least amount of pain and sufferering, but that's a totally different kettle of fish from this! To see animals suffer like this is not something I like to see and be a part of, especially the euthanasia part. That is not the sort of thing one wants to be called upon to do.

And I agree - let's pray this never happens again. :pray:
Hunter, angler, nature lover, conservationist.

I believe that for man to survive, we must work with nature rather than against her. We need the land; the land doesn't need us. Too many people have lost sight of this fact. - Bruce Truter

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