IWDG Live Cetacean Stranding Training Course in Kerry

14th Feb 2003 The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group organised two, one-day courses on Feb 1st & 2nd at the Sea and Cliff Rescue Centre, Ballybunion, Co Kerry, on the welfare of live stranded cetaceans.

Over 80 people attended the course, among these were vets from Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare, representatives from Dúchas, Ballybunion, Dingle, Castlegregory, Lahinch and Doolin Inshore Rescue, Killarney Water Rescue, Shannon Regional Fisheries Board.

The course was run in collaboration with James Barnett of British Divers Marine Life Rescue ( www.bdmlr.org.uk ), a veterinarian with considerable experience in live stranded cetaceans.

The course covered assessment, options and the practical use of whale pontoons for refloating whales.

The IWDG have:

· Promoted best practice since its foundation in 1991.

· Published Face to Face with a Beached Whale: a Guide to the Welfare of Live Stranded Cetaceans in 1995 (reprinted 2000).

· Organised the first live stranding training course in Dollymount Strand, Dublin, April 1998.

· Purchased Ireland's first set of rescue pontoons in 1999.

Legal responsibility:

Dúchas are the competent authority responsible for the conservation of cetaceans. All cetaceans are protected under the Wildlife Act (1976) and this prohibits excessive disturbance, harassment etc. Breaking the Wildlife Act, by attempting to “do your best” is not defensible and is illegal. In practice, it is unlikely that a prosecution will be forthcoming, but in the event of a live stranding people should try and implement best practice.

Species involved:

Live stranding events are rare, with around 10 reported annually to IWDG. In Ireland 13 species have been recorded live stranded but three species: common and striped dolphin and pilot whale, account for 50% of all live stranding events.

Mass strandings, where ≥1 cetacean strand are not uncommon and four species: common, striped and Atlantic white-sided dolphin and pilot whale account for 80% of mass stranding events.

Live stranded cetaceans have been recorded on all coasts but with concentrations along the Cork coast, West Kerry and North Mayo. The high numbers reported in Co. Cork are probably due to observer effort but West Kerry and North Mayo seem to be susceptible to live and mass strandings, which may be related to coastal topography or other localised features.

Pelagic or offshore species often strand in good nutritive condition, with no apparent wounds or lesions, whereas coastal species are generally diseased or in poor condition.

First aid:

When encountered, it is important to try and reduce stress, stabilise the animal's condition and protect it from overheating and the elements.

A rapid response to a live stranding incident is essential in order to stabilise its condition and improve the cetacean's prognosis. Stress should be reduced by reducing noise levels from people, dogs and cars.

A beachmaster should be appointed to liaise with Gardai and media and control onlookers, and to ensure that the veterinary and rescue teams can get on with the job, without unnecessary interference.

If possible the animal should be supported on its belly and its pectoral fins either tucked in parallel to its body or housed in holes in the sand dug under the pectoral fins. Cetaceans are well insulated and may easily overheat on the beach.

Water should be poured over the animal's body, taking care not to let water down the blowhole. A sheet, seaweed or wet sand can be placed on the animal to ensure it does not overheat and to protect its skin against sunburn and chapping. Again ensuring that the blowhole is left clear at all times.

Assessment:

Initial assessment may indicate what caused the stranding and whether the animal is a sui