Saving our melon-headed whales – Trinidad & Tobago
The melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra), a member of the marine dolphin family, is no stranger to our shores. Sadly, its appearance in an injured or dying state is the only time we get the chance to see it. Usually, this species spends most of its time in deep waters and it is only when it gets into trouble that it finds itself on our beaches.
Strandings occur because of its social instinct. Large numbers travel in groups together and when one is hurt, the others accompany it wherever the tides will, most times, bringing them into shallow waters along the shoreline.
Injuries caused by the unusual intensity of sound in the water, more than their echolocation could tolerate, result in ear damage and loss of direction; collisions with ships; and deprivation of food because of man’s overfishing methods are some of the situations that lead to accidental wanderings into shallow waters.
The recent stranding of one melon head at La Lune Beach in Moruga turned out to be a heart-breaking event to the nearby community as able-bodied men, willing to give it assistance but lacking in the relevant knowledge and experience, hoped for its survival.
This whale was just about six feet (1.8 metres) in length and almost 200 pounds (90.7 kilogrammes). The men tried to take the animal into the water, but it being low tide, deeper water was some distance out as is the gentle topography of our southern beaches.
When Sgt Aldwyn Toussaint of the Moruga Police Station was asked to contact Eric Lewis, curator of the Moruga Museum and expert in the whale rescue field, Lewis was at the time conducting business in San Fernando. Lewis saw this as an emergency and immediately headed for La Lune Beach, but by the time he got there, it was too late. The whale had succumbed to its injuries.
“People were also calling me while I was on my way because by then, the word had spread and people had recognised the urgency of the situation but were unable to deal with it themselves.
“When I got there, I found people of all ages standing around in a state of awe. They did not know how to save the animal. I identified the animal by the rounded shape of the front of the head and the difference in its teeth as a melon-headed whale.
“I discovered that the whale had a bruised nose as if it had collided with something. It was already releasing blood from the blowhole, which meant that the lungs had been damaged. What happens with animals like this is that when they remain on their stomach for long periods of time, their body weight exerts pressure on the lungs and they collapse.
“The melon-head has a heavier stomach than the pilot so this was the end result. The community just did not know the techniques of whale rescue and let the whale lie on its stomach for too long during their voluntary efforts.”
Saving our melon-headed whales Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers