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
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
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
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
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
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
And almost all this rubbish is petro-chemical based.
Do you still wonder why the price of petrol is so high?