Whales stranded at Pringle Bay in July 2017

The Dilemma of Marine Mammal strandings

On 15 June this year, in response to a widely expressed need for a uniform modus operandi, a successful workshop was held in Cape Town as a combined effort between the Western Cape Government’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP), the National Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the City of Cape Town.

Delegates came from as far as the west coast and the Overberg and many practical issues were addressed. It also emerged that there was an urgent need for a protocol to refer to in the case of marine mammal strandings – as they occurred fairly frequently and when they did, the modus operandi of how to deal with them was not always clear or known.

In the process of convening the workshop, Carmen van Uys, Control Environmental Officer in the Directorate: Biodiversity and Coastal Management of the Western Cape Government’s Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Department, said the department had "received numerous queries from coastal municipalities on procedures and protocols regarding what to do when they have a whale, dolphin, etc. stranding on their beach".

The agenda included presentations from both DEA and City of Cape Town and the content included the National Response Plan, the City of Cape Town’s protocol, technical discussion, some lessons learned during past scenarios, as well as case studies. She pointed out that "The aim is to have focussed discussions on practical matters and to ensure that there are proactive measures/plans in place for the Western Cape".

Points on the agenda included the following:

  • National Animal Stranding Procedures and Protocols, with reference to  i) Single stranding events and  ii) Mass stranding events. This topic was dealt with by Deon Kotze of DEA.
  • Toolkit and other technical input, with Steven McCue (also of DEA) as the introductory speaker.
  • City of Cape Town Marine Animal Stranding Policy and Protocol (Jacques du Toit).
  • Case studies and discussion (facilitated by Deon Kotze).

Custodians

In his presentation Deon pointed out that DEA and DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) are the caretakers and custodians of marine life in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act (Act 18 of 1998) – up to the high-water mark. He also reminded the workshop that DEA's mandate did not extend to health and safety issues.

He said a strandings network had been established and permits were issues on an annual basis for the collection of relevant data. The moratorium on whale hunting however also implied that a ban on lethal whale and dolphin research was in place.

The role of photo identification is very important and Deon encouraged delegates to spread the word in their respective areas that taking photographs of a stranded animal, and sending them (preferably by 'WhatsApp') was useful and even crucial.

He said DEA’s research obligations included the gathering of scientific information on strandings and that stranded whales and dolphins offered the only opportunity to collect scientific data.

The most apparent reasons for strandings seemed to be:

  • Illness
  • Old age
  • Entanglements
  • Ship strikes

The telephone numbers that can be used to report a marine mammal stranding, are the following:

Deon Kotze   021-819 5058 / 072 477 7170
Steven McCue  021-819 5055 / 083 462 5345
Mduduzi Seakamela  021-819 5049 / 072 781 0968

Before reporting a marine mammal stranding, you should make sure that you have a few items handy (the toolkit), for example a camera or phone with camera; a tape measure; notebook and pen; knife and small zip-lock packet like a bank packet. When you report the stranding, the information that will be required from you, is the following:

  • Species
  • Date of stranding
  • Location
  • Sex (take close-up photographs of the belly / anal area)
  • Lengths
  • 1cm x 1cm piece of skin for genetic analysis (store in ethanol or freeze)

The two types of strandings that occur, namely of dead and live mammals, require different types of actions. In latter cases, if the animal is exceptionally large, the chances are that it will need to be euthanized. Otherwise it would need to be stabilized, and crowd control would have to be exercised. It would be essential to make a call immediately to obtain advice on how to further deal with the situation. It could be dangerous to try and rescue a live animal.

In his address Steven McCue mentioned that the option of towing a dead animal back to sea was generally not a good one for various reasons.

What is the role of the provincial and local authority?

  • Report the incident to the relevant authorities
  • Traffic control
  • Crowd control
  • Provide infrastructure / heavy machinery
  • Collect the required scientific information
  • Dispose of the carcass in one of the following ways
    • Burning
    • Explosives
    • Burial

Jock's Bay in Betty's Bay, August 2014

Decomposing carcass of whale at Jock’s Bay, Betty’s Bay, in August 2014. Days earlier, the whale had been spotted floating belly-up out at sea beyond Stony Point and had been reported to local authorities by residents. A plan of action had not been put in place in time to prevent the rotting carcass from washing up on the beach which is surrounded by permanent residences and holiday homes.

(Photos: Lisel Krige)

Pringle Bay, July 2017

(Photos: Lisel Krige)
  Vol 4, Issue 3 – November 2017
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