UNAIR Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences researcher suspects four factors causing death of whales in Bangkalan

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A crowd of residents look closely and try to wash the stranded pilot whale. (Photo: By courtesy)
A crowd of residents look closely and try to wash the stranded pilot whale. (Photo: By courtesy)

UNAIR NEWS – Two days before the commemoration of World Whale Day, Sunday, February 21, 2021, the Madura Strait area was shocked by the mass death of whales identified as short fin pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus ) in Bangkalan coast.

Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) officers has conducted evacuation for nearly 12 hours. A total of 49 pilot whales died and were buried en masse near the site with the help of heavy equipment. Drone monitoring was also carried out. Through aerial photography, it was found that 52 whales died, while only 1 whale was still alive.

Researcher and Vice-Dean of Research, Publications, Collaboration and Public Relations Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences Universitas Airlangga (FPK UNAIR) Dr. Eng. Sapto Andriyono, S.Pi., MT, said that the pilot whales allegedly died due to extreme weather. As extreme weather occurred in the last few weeks, such as La Nina which causes storms in the southern region of Java Island or the Indian Ocean.

Vice Dean for Research, Publications, Collaboration, and Public Relations Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences Universitas Airlangga (FPK UNAIR) Dr. Eng. Sapto Andriyono, S.Pi., MT (Photo: By courtesy)

Apart from extreme weather, added Dr Sapto, the whales’ death could be caused by some other things related to the latest environmental condition, mainly due to behavior and natural change. According to him, there are four possible things that caused the whales’ death.

  1. La Nina and El Nino

“The natural phenomena of La Nina and El Nino also allow magnetic changes in the ocean. These changes could potentially affect the sonar system in whales, “said the lecturer of marine biology course.

With this natural phenomenon assumption, pilot whales migrate to calmer areas and keep their distance from the sea storm in this region. However, the alleged disorientation caused the whales to swim towards the shallower waters of the Madura Strait.

A similar incident occurred in June 2016. According to Dr. Sapto, this incident is very likely to occur with the same conditions as the case in Bangkalan. However, the pod of pilot whales headed south of the Madura Strait, until finally stranded at Probolinggo coast. At that time, it was reported that 10 whales died from the total 32 whales.

  1. Behavior, Age and Illness

Besides the weather, Dr. Sapto emphasized that the whale’s death has various aspects that still need to be studied further. It could be from the habitat where they lived, the behavior of the group, and the possibility of a disease in the Alpha whale (leader) which causes members of the group to die.

“We also continue to conduct research on it,” he said

  1. Pollution in the Sea

The problem of pollution on land as well as the increasing amount of plastic waste pollution also causes the quality of coastal marine waters to decline. On the other hand, the whales migrate to the area in order to find a calm and safe area.

“With conditions of high sedimentation and domestic pollution in the form of garbage and plastic which are also scattered, it has made the stress level of stranded whales very high,” he said.

  1. Human Activities

Dr. Sapto commented on several amateur videos that were spread in some online media. You can see people busy taking pictures and riding the whales which even put them in more stressful condition.

According to him, public awareness regarding marine ecosystems needs to be considered and studied in the future, especially related to knowledge of marine biota and ecosystem. This phenomenon is also an opportunity to conduct an evaluation in the campaign for marine ecosystems in the future.

“Not to mention the people who flock to the whales trying to keep them wet, but they probably got too close with the blow hole. It causes more stress for marine mammals due to difficulty breathing, “he said.

At the end, Dr. Sapto revealed that efforts to improve the quality of the marine environments are still daunting tasks for all of us. “The point is, let’s improve the marine environment while protecting Indonesia’s marine biodiversity,” he concluded. (*)

Author: Dimar Herfano

Editor: Feri Fenoria

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