Rare whale beached at Gansbaai

Henry

A Cuvier’s beaked whale, which is rarely spotted in South African waters, has washed ashore at Gansbaai in the Western Cape.

Marine Dynamics received a call early in the morning on 9 October from a concerned hiker at Die Plaat, near De Kelders.

Aaron Stemmett, local resident of Gansbaai, was walking with a group of students when they came across the whale. They initially suspected it was a Southern northern caper calf. They hoped that he was still alive and attempted to push the whale back into the sea.

Stemmett called Marine Dynamics for assistance as the tide was coming in and he didn’t want to take any chances with students in the water.

Marine Dynamics’ team was immediately deployed with a net and buckets to keep the whale wet – in an attempt to save the animal’s life. The organization also contacted marine conservation partners. Dr. Els Vermeulen from the whale unit of the UP mammal research institute, left Hermanus immediately.

The only way to get to the whale was on foot – so the team had to venture about 40 minutes in loose sand.

“It was a big surprise to come across the Cuvier’s beaked whale,” Marine Dynamics said in a statement.

This whale is a deep-sea animal (at least 300 meters deep) and therefore little is known about them.

Unfortunately, the team found that the whale had already died.

“You could see from the seagull bite marks on the whale’s face that she had already been dead for some time and the birds had started to eat the skin,” said Wilfred Chivell, CEO of Marine Dynamics and founder of the Dyer- island conservation trust.

According to Chivell, who has studied whales worldwide, and has an in-depth knowledge of these mammals, their behavior and migration patterns, it was a very sad day.

There are about 90 different species of whales, and Chivell has seen, dived and photographed many of them, apart from the Cuvier’s beaked whale.

“Seeing this mysterious, almost dolphin-like creature for the first time in this way is not what I had hoped for our first meeting.”

Wilfred’s son, skipper and marine warden, Dickie Chivell, said he had only seen these majestic whales once before. It was in Guadeloupe while he was filming a documentary about sharks.

Ralph Watson, chief scientist at Marine Dynamics Dyer Island Conservation Trust, immediately took measurements and samples for further research.

Vermeulen and her whale unit also arrived at the scene and took further samples for research. The team confirmed that it is a mature cow of around 5.5 metres. Samples were taken from the skin, blubber and muscle tissue to gain a greater understanding of the species.

From external assessment, the cause of the whale’s death could not yet be confirmed.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs also visited the scene for further research.

  • To report sick, injured or stranded marine life in and around Gansbaai, contact Marine Dynamics’ team on 072 598 7117.