About Whale Research

Ziphius cavirostris strand (#2) at Muri Beach, Rarotonga Cook islands

Another rare beaked whale came over the reef a few days after we successfully rescued the first one. This one was found washed up dead in the reef between Motutapu Onearo. Marisa and Gracie waded out to the lagoon to the whale and collected complete measurements with skin samples! What a wonderful job they did! Hayes and I met them out there, and we all wandered back together as Hayes droned the whale and lagoon for a National Geographic special. A few days later the volunteer veterinarians helped Gracie and me necropsy the whale. It was starting to decay, and the smell was atrocious. The crew from Te Ara Manu were amazing, and thank goodness they were there. I had started a new medication for my CRPS that day and was feeling like a total space cadet. Just in the knick of time to catch the tide, Elise and Jesse showed up and finished removing the head. They floated it to Avana Harbor where we had to wave down the crew of the Vaka to come help us lift it into the truck. They were all smiles until they saw all the blood and the blubber, but they were good sports. Off I headed in the truck towards the valley. Upon arrival to the valley, I realized that I needed to get this head out of the truck by myself. I lay on  my back and pushed with both feet until it slipped easily off the tailgate. All was fine until a storm came a couple of days later. It was raining so hard that I went to make sure that the head was okay… but it wasn’t. It had started to float down the river. I ran up to the house putting on operating room scrubs and a raincoat. Breanna accompanied me as I jumped in the stream and she watched with the headlights from the truck. The head had floated way down stream and I held onto it as hard as I possibly could, trying not to damage my newly operated on right shoulder. Soon the water came over the bridge.

Beaked Whale Stranding

I love waking up in the morning and having absolutely no idea what new adventure might present itself. Exhausted from a very busy and intense whale season, we were out in bad weather yesterday hoping to find a singing male humpback. The calls started coming in at about 10:12 AM. “Hello, is this Nan? There’s a whale stranded on the reef at Muri Lagoon!!! Can you please come quickly?” The calls and texts just kept coming in concerning the urgency of this stranded whale. 20 minutes later a text from Josh Mitchell read that the whale was swimming around inside the lagoon! Having two boats on the water already, we drove full speed up along the reef and went into Avana Harbor. Luckily Tom and Lucy were there to pick us up! We had called the rest of our team to meet us at the whale ASAP. They were all there in no time.

Luckily the owners of Kura’s Kabanas rang us just as we were going past their driveway. They could see the whale in the shallow water of the lagoon from there. I looked out from the shore and could tell immediately that it was a beaked whale. It had turned on its side and was holding its breath. Whales, of course, are mammals and need to be able to breathe air just like us humans. We got to the whale as quickly as possible and turned it so that the blowhole was up. The whale was in dire distress. Amazingly, more and more people showed up and everyone swung into full action! Before I knew it we had a team of locals, Muri businesses, biologists, National Geographic filmmakers, school children, and tourists. We even had a dog out there! The determination of every single person involved was so impressive. To look at all of the healing hands on this very old (probably around 45 to 50 year-old) whale was a beautiful sight. Then there were those that were leading the way by clearing a path through the lagoon so that we could move the whale along towards the pass at Avana Harbour. Everyone was moving rocks and coral to prevent more damage to the whale!

The whale had washed over the reef up by Koromiri Motu. It swam until it was too shallow. When whales strand they go into a stress mode and often die from kidney failure and other organ malfunction . We had to keep this whale calm as everyone moved it a few metres at a time. thank goodness for the brainstorming of Paul Mangakahia who brought the proper cargo nets and carriers to lift this incredibly heavy whale!

The lagoon was full of sharp coral, and the whale was very cut up and bleeding in many spots. But with the efforts of a magnificent team and constant reassurance to the whale with hands, soft voices, and staring into its eye (it was blind in its right eye!), we eventually made it to the opening of the harbor!! Shrieks of joy came from all those involved!

We followed it out to the deep. It swam faster and faster as it realized that it was back into its own territory. Their were many tears of joy. This is the first time in my 30 years of helping stranded animals as part of my research that I have had a successful ending with a beaked whale stranding! We were well overjoyed to know that this great great great grandfather, whose species has been on this planet for tens of thousands of years, was back out in the deep water where it belonged. Thank you to everyone involved! The list is so very long. And a very special thanks to my team… Stan, Marisa, Gracie, George, Eva, Dave, Paul, Nicole, Brian, Adam, Dan, Hayes, Jeremy, Derek, Jaewynn, Tom & Lucy!  (more>>>>>)

 

More about this whale! A Ziphius cavirostris (Cuvier’s Beaked Whale):

In 2014, friends of mine used satellite-linked tags to track Cuvier’s beaked whales off the coast of California. They found that the animals dove up to 2,992 m (9,816 ft) below the ocean surface and spent up to two hours and 17 minutes underwater before resurfacing, which represent both the deepest and the longest dives ever documented by any mammal.

The whales’ rib cages can fold down to reduce pockets of air and decrease buoyancy.

Most studies of their diet have been limited to samples from the stomachs of stranded animals here in the Cook Islands and elsewhere. They appear to feed on cephalopods and small fish, including both bathypelagic and mesopelagic prey.

I will write more about this ancient whale in the coming days!

 

Floating Blob

Thanks to the fishermen, we were notified of a floating “blob”. It turned out to be a very, very dead whale! Dead enough to make our eyes water. From our GoPro footage we noticed the next day that 17 vertebrae were hanging underneath, wrapped in fibrous tissue and blubber… a biologist’s dream! With the help of Paul Mangakahia, our retrival mission was a success! Thank you to all the fishermen involved. Brendan, sorry your hook got caught in it, and that you had to cut it out while gagging! If you are wondering why we didn’t enter the water, it was because there were many sharks having a feed! Always an adventure to be had!

Adventures in Oman

Team members Nan Daeschler Hauser, Stan Wolfgramm, Natalie Barefoot, Hind the Saint of all Beings, and Colin Brown just spent time in Oman exploring possibilities of finding solutions for two endangered populations of humpback whales. Oman has the last endangered non-migratory population of humpbacks, while Oceania has the last endangered population of migratory humpbacks. Despite being on the opposite sides of the planet, we have many of the same issues and problems. We hope to learn together how we can protect these amazing whales.  

 

 

Glackma 2019

After traveling for more than 35 hours, crossing the Middle East, and losing her luggage, Nan Daeschler Hauser landed in Spain on Thursday (21 Feb). Nan is a special guest Speaker at the “Congresso GLACKMA Asturias – 2019.” The event is taking place in a coastal city in northern Spain, called Gijon.

She will be sharing her passion and her extraordinary work with more than 500 participants that are coming from all around Spain. After three decades of giving lectures and presentations around the world, this is the first time that Nan has been to Spain.

She is very excited to be here and so grateful to be part of this event. The event is organized by Carlos Caraglia. Carlos is a dedicated videographer and photographer that is committed to nature and climate change. His goal is to show the reality of climate change of the planet through amazing video and photography. Carlos is devoted and carrying out awareness-raising campaigns for the environment. This GLACKMA event brings together great collaboration between amazing people with inspiring stories.  

Thanks again GLACKMA for organizing the event and bringing together a great mix of professionals with important goals.

To watch a wonderful video about THE EARTH 360º GLACKMA Conference click here:   https://vimeo.com/324872179