[MARMAM] Growing numbers - Update on the mass stranding of Ziphius in the Ionian Sea, Greece

Alexandros Frantzis afrantzis at otenet.gr
Wed Dec 7 09:08:16 PST 2011

Dear all,

This is to let you know that more animals have stranded along the west 
coasts of Corfu during the last two days. Yesterday, 6 December three 
more animals stranded along the coasts. Two of them stranded in the same 
beach and one stranded alone 9.3 km further north. Today, one more 
animal was found in another beach.

All new animals were found dead (in contrast to previous ones) and their 
decomposition state indicates that their death occurred approximately at 
the same time with the animals found stranded the 30 November. All new 
stranding positions were spread between the northern and southern 
positions that we had already reported. Efforts are made by Dr. A. 
Komnenou (School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Thessaloniki) to 
co-ordinate local veterinarians in order to collect tissue samples from 
the new animals.

The number of whales involved in the mass stranding, which have been 
recorded so far, is seven or eight for Corfu (Greece) plus two in Italy. 
It is reasonable to think that there are more animals in the pelagic 
waters of the Ionian Sea, which may never reach the coasts. The local 
and apparently small Ionian population unit has suffered three stranding 
events coinciding in time and space with use of military sonar in the 
past (plus one in east Sicily earlier this year). There should be little 
doubt (if any) that the cumulative damage at the population level is high.

Best wishes,

On 12/6/2011 4:35 AM, Alexandros Frantzis wrote:
> Dear all,
> Thanks a lot(!) to all those who have responded to our first message 
> and provided, precious information or good will to help in any way 
> they could. We have been overwhelmed by the obligations of the last 
> days, so I apologize that I will not be able to answer personally to 
> all of you who sent e-mails (more than 100!).
> Many thanks to Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara who responded 
> immediately and initiated a large international effort for the 
> conservation of the Mediterranean deep diving cetacean that are 
> sensitive to loud anthropogenic sounds. Also many thanks to all those 
> who expressed support to this initiative.
> The good news: this message is to let you know that despite the many 
> and various difficulties, at the end necropsies were performed in two 
> of the stranded whales (probably three or possibly four in total in 
> Corfu). Thanks to Prof. Antonio Fernandez ( Facultad de Veterinaria - 
> Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), who kindly and immediately 
> responded to our call and expressed his will to help, a team of 
> specialists led in situ by Dr. Manuel Arbelo succeeded to join us and 
> reach the stranding area early enough to make the necropsies possible.
> One of the two whales was nearly fresh and allowed important 
> macroscopic observations. More details and further results from sample 
> analysis will be announced by Prof. Antonio Fernandez and his team 
> whenever appropriate.
> Best wishes and thank you once more,
> Alexandros
> -- 
> ___________________________________________
> Dr. Alexandros Frantzis
> Scientific director
> Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute
> Terpsichoris 21
> 16671 Vouliagmeni,
> Tel.: +30-210-8960108
> e-mail:afrantzis at otenet.gr
> website:http://www.pelagosinstitute.gr
> ___________________________________________
> On 12/1/2011 2:04 AM, Alexandros Frantzis wrote:
>> Dear all,
>> Once more we have bad news regarding Cuvier's beaked whales in the 
>> Ionian Sea. The local population unit, which has repeatedly been 
>> affected by NATO naval activity (last time in February 2011 east of 
>> Sicily) may be steadily heading towards its extinction...
>> Today 30 November 2011 at least three Cuvier's beaked whales stranded 
>> alive and atypically in west Corfu, along 23 km of coast. All whales 
>> were led offshore by people who tried to rescue them. One whale died 
>> some 200 m offshore. Another whale, after having swam some 600 m 
>> offshore, returned and stranded once more (if this wasn't a different 
>> animal). It was led once more offshore after the sunset, so no 
>> further information is available so far. The third animal was not 
>> seen after it was "rescued".
>> *I would like to draw your attention on two "peculiarities":*
>> *1)* Independent rescuers in two different stranding areas, reported 
>> that they were hearing "whistles" while approaching the single 
>> animals. The "whistles" were heard even out of the water at a 
>> distance of 100 m from the animal (!), and became much louder when 
>> the rescuers entered the water to approach the animal. The rescuers 
>> kept hearing the "whistles" until they left the place, two hours 
>> after the death of the unique whale present! They thought that there 
>> might be other whales calling the stranded animal from further 
>> offshore, although they could observe nothing for hours.
>> Two independent rescuers (separated by 23 km) described these 
>> "whistles" as "emission"-pause of 10-15 seconds-"emission"-pause and 
>> so on. *I wonder if what the rescuers were hearing was the probable 
>> sonic cause of the stranding*. If you have a similar experience or 
>> knowledge, please share it with us.
>> The rescuers didn't see any military or seismic survey vessels from 
>> the shore. A fisherman from the area said that today he saw an 
>> "unusual" research vessel offshore that he believes (it is known in 
>> the area that seismic surveys have started or are about to start) was 
>> performing research for oil.
>> *2)* The whale that died 200 m offshore was found at about 3-4 m 
>> depth at an unusual position (to me at least). Its flukes were on the 
>> sea bed while the beak and part of the head of the animal was out of 
>> the water! For some reason the head could float at surface and the 
>> animal never sunk. *Does anyone has an explanation?
>> *
>> Unfortunately no necropsy was performed to the animal that died.
>> The port-police authorities and local volunteers have been alerted 
>> and we just hope that tomorrow we won't find more animals along the 
>> coasts.
>> Repeated use of military sonar and now growing seismic survey 
>> activity go on in an area that is critical for the two deep diving 
>> Mediterranean species, the Cuvier's and the sperm whales. In 2007 
>> ACCOBAMS officially proposed the creation of a MPA for deep diving 
>> cetaceans in the eastern Ionian Sea (Hellenic Trench), but nothing 
>> has happened so far.
>> Best wishes,
>> Alexandros
>> -- 
>> ___________________________________________
>> Dr. Alexandros Frantzis
>> Scientific director
>> Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute
>> Terpsichoris 21
>> 16671 Vouliagmeni,
>> Tel.: +30-210-8960108
>> e-mail:afrantzis at otenet.gr
>> website:http://www.pelagosinstitute.gr
>> ___________________________________________
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