Monday, June 19, 2017

13th whale species spotted, 
dead, documented in Bohol 

TAGBILARAN CITY, June 16, (PIA)--Sad as it may be, the discovery of a dead sperm whale floating off the waters of Baclayon puts the gentle sea giant in the 13th slot for the whale species already spotted in Bohol. 

An Italian marine biologist and veterinarian, Alessandro Ponzo, whose group Physallus conducted a study in Bohol named six dolphins and 12 whales species they found while doing research in Bohol years ago. 

As to dolphins, Dr. Ponzo named Rissos, Fraser’s dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin and common bottle-nosed dolphins.

According to Ponzo, his team also found in Bohol Pygmy Killer Whales, Short-finned pilot whale, melon-headed whale, Killer Whale, False Killer whale, Sperm Whale, Dwarf Sperm Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Blainsville’s beaked-whale, Brydes Whale, Blue whale and Omura’s whale.

The recent sightings and stranding of dead sperm whale makes it the 13th whale species documented here. 

Asked then what could have brought these animals to go via Bohol sea, he said the giant squids and plentiful food found at the deep trench that runs alongside southeastern Bohol from Anda to Jagna towns and veering towards Pamilacan Island in Baclayon is the reason whales and dolphins can easily be spotted near the coasts of Bohol. 

As the dead whale drew reactions from Boholanos who are believed to be staunch environment advocates, local volunteers could not muster a team to perform the mandated retrieval and disposition procedures. 

As soon as a report of a crew of a motorized banca serving Pamilacan Baclayon spotted the dead whale, Boholanos took to the accessible medium of the social media to say mouthfuls of speculations and wrong information. 

A netster immediately pointed out that this could be the consequences of irreverent treatment of the environment taking its toll on the different aquatic species. 

Another said this could be another omen of a bad thing to come. 

What are sperm whales?

Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are the largest of toothed whales (as opposed to the baleen whales) can grow past 20 meters, can live until about 70 and owns the largest brain of all animals that are known to exist. 

The name sperm whale comes from spermaceti organ in its head which produces a white waxy substance that was originally mistaken for sperm. 

In the past, the spermaceti was used by commercial companies to make various oils and products, according to www.whalefacts.org. 

Researchers also believe that spermaceti assists helps the whale with buoyancy, which is important during dive, it being the deepest diving animal in the cetacean family. Others also believe its plays a role in assisting the whale with echolocation.

A fully matured male sperm whale can grow to 50 – 55 ft long and weigh 35 – 45 tons, while female sperm whales tend to be much smaller, growing to 34 – 38 ft. long and weighing between 14 – 16 tons.

One distinguishing character of the sperm whale is its very unique body and a block shaped head.

In comparison to the rest of its large block shaped head the lower jaw is long, narrow and filled with cone-shaped teeth that fit into sockets in the upper jaw.

To help with swimming, sperm whales have a small paddle shaped fins used for steering in the water and large flukes to propel themselves forward. They do not have a dorsal fin, but several small humps on its back with one larger hump that resembles a dorsal fin.

Sperm whales usually eat medium to giant squids, octopus and fish. And while giants squids are found in deep waters, sometimes in pitch darkness, sperm whales use echolocation, going to depths over 3 kilometers searching for a ton of food per day.

But, wild marine mammal stranding and beaching of dead sea giants is nothing new to Bohol.

In February of 2014, Baclayon fishermen also found a dead, much bigger 10 meter 5 ton sperm whale. 

While there was also no necropsy done then due to the whale's advanced state of decomposition, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) believed the cause of death was the whale getting run over by a boat, as evidenced by a long and deep wound in its belly, according to reports from a defunct newspaper Bohol Sunday Post in its March 2 2012 issue. 

Then Baclayon Mayor Alvin Uy immediately ordered for the disposal of the carcass, to be exhumed later, its bones restored for future studies and possible museum piece for tourism. 

This year, a smaller sperm whale, about 8 feet in length and around 1.2 tons in weight was again towed to Baluarte in Baclayon.

Mayor Benecio Uy said authorities could not again do necropsy to determine the cause of death due to its advanced state of decomposition. 

Believed to be dead at least two days before being towed to Baluarte, the dead sperm whale was also secured by the BFAR, Municipal Agriculture Office of Baclayon and the Philippine Coast Guard. 

In 2012, another whale, this time a Blainville's beaked whale reportedly about 6 meters floated in the seas off Garcia Hernandez. The same was buried in a spot in Barangay Malinao where it beached. 

The same news paper reports that within the proximate period of that time, 19 more stranding of whales, dolphins and sea turtles happened in Bohol then. 

The death of these sperm whales in the sea waters off Bohol only tells of one thing, the degree of traffic that the seas of Bohol offers to migrating sea giants, Bohol BFAR fishery Officer Leo Bongalos pointed out. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)
Baclayon church and its reflection offers a stark contrast to the dead sperm whale, blackened by its prolonged exposure to sun as it was secured in Baluarte Baclayon. The sperm whale could be the 13th whale species found in these waters of Bohol. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

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