|Beached Whale, New York circa 1891. From the Tooker Photo Collection.|
Modern photographs of stranded whales rarely show people walking on beached whales (with the exception of scientists attempting to determine cause of death). Instead, they show people helping the whales and dolphins - moving them back to sea, keeping them cool, helping them in a rehabilitation tank.
|Volunteers moving a false killer whale back into the sea in Australia.|
Although there are wonderful success stories, many stranded animals die. Cetaceans often become beached because they are already sick or injured, and despite heroic efforts on the part of scientists and vets, there is little we can do to save them. As a result, many beached or stranded animals are often euthanized, which is much less cruel than allowing them to suffocate under their own weight on the beach or drown in the sea.
These doomed whales can also help scientists to protect other whales from a similar fate. One human activity that has been linked closely to beached whales is noise, specifically sonar. Unfortunately, we don't have the foggiest idea what most species of whales and dolphins can hear. This lack of information can lead to a lack of regulation - we can't always prove the whales can hear sonar, because no one has ever tested the hearing of many whale and dolphin species.
|An infant and a false killer whale having their hearing tested.|
|I run like Phoebe, for example.|
Regardless of my personal preference for the precautionary principle, changing of conservation law often requires basic knowledge of animal ecology and biology. Until we figure out how to get whales to make appointments for hearing tests, stranding data is going to be vitally important.
|Baleen whales never show up for their yearly check-up.|