I am a volunteer the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group(IWDG) Strandings Scheme. Like owning a dog, it has given my beach walks a porpoise (sorry purpose) while unlike owning a dog I don’t have to feed, walk, clean or entertain anything and I feel like I am being of some use. Win-win for me.
The kit the IWDG gave me contains a whale and dolphin identification book, a chart of the type of photographs I should take of the dead animals, a tape measure, scalpels, latex gloves, a water-proof notebook, vials filled with solution and SAE s for the tissue bank where I send my skin samples to.
When I find a dead animal I take photos from different angles and close-ups of genitalia and any injuries or distinctive marks as well as fins tails and teeth, identify the species, measure it (you can include a coin or some other easily recognised article in a photo if you have no tape measure) and determine its gender. A male animal will have one slit on its underside back towards the tail while a female will have three slits, two of which are for feeding their young.
With the kit I have I can also take two small tissue samples from each animal to send onto the a tissue bank.
All the strandings I have reported have been of dead animals in varying states of decay. There are training courses for dealing with live strandings something I haven’t yet had a chance to do. Sadly many people act badly when they come across a wild animal.
A Sperm Whale live stranded in Dungarvan last year. It was a young male and it was thought afterwards that he showed signs of starvation. He lived for 24 hours after he stranded in a state of some distress.
Before (and after) it died I was visited by throngs of people who tried to get as close to it as possible made me quite angry. Some people even carved their names in its skin-hopefully after it had died.
One man excused his behaviour by saying his kids would never get a chance like this again and that the whale was dying anyway. Another man was spotted wading out into the incoming tide with a child on his shoulders. He didn’t drown, lucky for him. Maybe not so lucky for the world.
Here is a link to some information on what you should do if you find a live animal Live Stranding Guidelines Most of it is common sense:don’t distress it, call the IWDG or local vet, don’t pour water in its blow hole and definitely don’t tie a rope around its tail and try to refloat it.
If you find a dead cetacean and log your find directly here at www.iwdg.ie Each report contributes to a growing knowledge of the creatures in the sea around us which in turn may help us to find a way to live our best lives on this planet.