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Whales and Dolphin (Cetaceans) In Peril

Whales and Dolphin (Cetaceans) In Peril

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When whales beach themselves most people assume the whale just lost its way. Causes include temperature conversion layers, human sonar systems, or increasingly, chemical disruption of a whale's sophisticated sonar system. Sometimes entire pods beach, following their clan leader to a potentially deadly beach landing.

While there are many reasons for these tragic incidents, one cause is rapidly increasing on a worldwide basis, one that is human related and therefore preventable - marine rubbish, including the chemical factor.

It's obscene that nations including Japan, Norway and Iceland continue hunting whales in the 21st century - in my mind a clear case of genocide many of us conveniently ignore. Many intelligence indicators including vocabulary size and complexity point to intelligence surprisingly close to human. Knowing whales as intimately as I did while kayaking in Hawai'i, I have no doubt that whale hunting verges on cannibalism and reminds me of war crimes.

The loss of cetaceans in any form is true tragedy, but we may be losing more whales to marine rubbish than genocide. According to Dr. Sontaya Manawatthaha of the Phuket Marine Biological Center, every year in Phuket an average of 20 whales and dolphins beach in Phuket and die because they cannot survive in our polluted seas.

These are the cetaceans who survive long enough to make it to our shores. For every whale or dolphin that makes land, an untold amount die at sea. Ironically, non-biodegradable petroleum products are the major culprits. Instead of using less plastic bags or recycling in an era of soaring petroleum costs, we throw them into the sea, where they end up in the guts of whales, turtles and seabirds, dooming them to a long, painful and frustrating death. While many readers may doubt the scientific facts that many cetacean species have larger working vocabularies than humans, the fact is marine mammals are highly intelligent and certainly realize they are dying, lacking the power to remain afloat as they slowly starve and lack the energy to remain afloat. Only the lucky ones make it to the beach, where (hopefully) they end up in the care of Dr. Sontaya and his colleagues.

Ironically, when rehabilitation is successful there is only one option - returning the lucky marine mammal right back into the increasingly polluted marine environment.

The Gazette won't publish the dissections of the dwarf sperm whale, including a bisection of the trunk that shows the whale's entire stomach packed solid with plastic rubbish, including 25 large black plastic trash bags, so I encourage you to go to /picview-page34-category111.php and check out the great stewardship our "civilization" practices within our own home. Have the courage to show your kids, and tell then they already have the power to speak out for their future. We obviously don't have the courage to do it ourselves.

Then think about those photos the next time a sales clerk offers you an unnecessary plastic bag.

On the way back from the Philippines I read that we had more small cetacean beachings, including a full pod. These rescues were successful, returning the mammals to the sea.

But why would healthy whales and dolphin with the strength to swim beach themselves? There are several options. The one pertinent to this discussion is petrochemicals.

One of the greatest gifts in life is paddling a kayak parallel with a humpback, with the huge eye and the kayak separated by less than two meters. The intelligence combined with the whale's gentle demeanor is inspiring, making it impossible to understand how humans can be so cruel they hunt these marvelous creatures.

At times the kayaker get the chance to look straight down the blowhole, watching it open and close like the glottal stop in the back of your throat. One learns the value of Listerine when the whale sprays you with bad breath.

My point is the blowhole is directly connected with the sea. It doesn't take solid rubbish as efficiently as the mouth, but what about petrochemical?

I thought of a whale's blowhole as I paddled the backside of Tapao Noi, near the Ao Makham tank farm back in 2002. As I circumnavigated the island looking for hornbill colonies, I paddled into the smell of petrol, and then obtained an immediate and terrifying headache. In under a minute into the slick my paddling partner and I were in danger of passing out, and we only got out of the slick by paddling in reverse.

I reported the slick to the Harbors Department, but for obvious reasons I've never been back to check.

The chemistry hit us hard, and we weren't even swimming in it. How do these petrochemicals impact a cetacean?

First off, between Phuket's lack of awareness regarding marine rubbish and the entrance to the Straight of Malacca so close, expect a lot of chemistry floating on the Andaman Sea.

Then stop at your neighborhood gas station, put a few drops of petrol in your palm, and clear your sinus cavities with a healthy snort of high octane, leaded of course. (Kids - don't really do this.) As you go catatonic, imagine how marine mammals must feel once they swim into a petrol or diesel slick - and can't find a way out.

My kayak headache was so disorienting we couldn't see more than 10 meters, and until we reversed gears, every direction we paddled took us further into the slick.

Tourist brochures won't tell you, but our oceans are polluted with both solid and petrochemical scum and it's getting worse. A year ago we departed from Cape Panwa and ran through a huge rubbish swirl created where Phi-Phi speedboat junk and Phuket harbor scum intersect. The rubbish floated far as the eye could see in every direction, but this slick is inconsequential compared to those in the pelagic oceans.

In Hawai'i, we learned in the 80's that albatross, the greatest mariners on the Planet and centuries old symbol of the sea, are threatened by eating brightly colored cigarette lighters from central China (did you really expect any other source?).

Today, there are at least three mid-ocean slicks hundreds of miles long, and as deep as 300 meters - the World's biggest garbage dumps, all human created. Imagine yourself as a migrating whale swimming your usual migration route and swimming into this muck!

If this isn't enough, enough drift nets have broken free to circle the globe three times - and these are the one that were reported. All are still working.

And almost all this rubbish is petro-chemical based.

Do you still wonder why the price of petrol is so high?

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