Pilot whales mass stranding in Donegal....Update

8th Jul 2014

11 July 2014

We have heard that finally the two remaining living pilot whales at Falcarragh have died last night and been buried. This brings an end to this sorry affair. Hopefully the statutory authorities who are responsibnle for protecting whales in Ireland will review this stranding event and prepare ap[propriate policies and procedures so next time it happens there will be an appropriate response.


Report II, 8th July 2014

As of this morning at 09:00am Gareth Doherty reports that four of the pilot whales are still alive at Falcarragh. Gareth can confirm that these were among the group of six animals that he managed to coax out into deeper water, some 2 km offshore, yesterday afternoon. Having been beached overnight they will by now be compromised and are no longer suitable candidates for further refloat attempts.

IWDG Welfare Officer Paul Kiernan broadens the point below....

" Unfortunately, there is little the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) can do in these situations as we are not the competent authority.  The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have responsibility for all live-stranding events and they are the organisation which receives the funding to provide these services. 

It is simply not possible for the IWDG to provide live-stranding resources along the entire coastline of Ireland for such crises.  The IWDG rely on the support and funding of its members to provide training in live-stranding response and co-ordinate a network of live-stranding volunteers.  However, we are an organisation of volunteers and it is simply impossible to respond to every stranding event. 

Regarding concerns for the animals which have suffered.  The six live whales were refloated and subsequently re-stranded.  It is internationally accepted that where a whale re-strands following a refloating attempt then it should be left alone and allowed to die naturally.  This may at first appear to be a callous disregard for the suffering of the stranded whale.  However, if the whale does not survive the first refloating attempt it is unlikely to survive subsequent re-floating attempts.  Continuing to try to refloat will prolong the animal's suffering and will subject it to unnecessary distress.  Therefore, the decision to allow the animals to die naturally following the failed attempt to refloat the live animals was in fact correct and in keeping with IWDG welfare guidelines and recommendations for live-stranded cetaceans.

We at the IWDG understand that this is a very unsettling and sad event.  We further understand that those witnessing the deaths of these whales may not understand why more wasn’t done to try and save them.  We stress that we do everything we possibly can to protect all cetaceans in Irish waters.  I would direct you to our website www.iwdg.ie to demonstrate this.  However, as previously stated we are not the competent authority, we do not have responsibility for these events and we are restricted by limited funding and resources.  We rely on the support of members to fund our initiatives such as the live-stranding courses, stranding network, publications etc.

We understand that this may be little comfort to members of the public who had to witness this event as it unfolded on the beach or later on the News bulletins.  However, in some stranding events, particularly mass strandings, it will not always be possible to prevent the suffering and death of all or any of the affected pod.  Unfortunately, the incident in Falcarragh is one such case."   



Report 1, 7th July 2014

IWDG have received reports this morning 7th July of 13 live-stranded whales at Falcarragh, Co. Donegal. Photos have been received which confirms that they are long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas. One smaller juvenile animal was refloated but died shortly afterwards and attempts are being made to refloat others using a tarpaulin and digger. At least two of the larger animals have also died. Even with plenty of help, experience and specialised equipment (ie pontoons) it is a difficult undertaking to successfully refloat animals this size. Latest reports indicate that the animals which have been refloated are in poor condition and unable to keep themselves upright in the water and are now getting washed in further along the beach. This is consistent with cetaceans which have been on the beach for some time as bodyweight becomes a serious issue when removed from the neutral buoyancy provided by seawater.

Pilot whale, Falcarragh, Co. Donegal 07/07/2014This is the 13th stranding reported from Donegal in 2014 and the second live stranding. A harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena live stranded and was refloated at Lough Foyle on 25 February. Another recent stranding which attracted much attention was that of a freshly dead northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus which was found at Cruit Island, Co. Donegal on 23 March. On 6 November 2010, 33 pilot whales live stranded and died at Rutland Island, Co. Donegal.

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