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HEATHER LYNN’S HABITAT: Cause of whale’s death a mystery

HEATHER-LYNN EVANSON, [email protected]

HEATHER LYNN’S HABITAT: Cause of whale’s death a mystery

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IT WAS an adult dwarf sperm whale that washed ashore at the Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, last weekend.

And its cause of death might never be known.

This has been revealed by marine biologist, fisheries consultant and member of the Barbados Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Nikola Simpson.

She, along with fellow member, professor of the Conservation Ecology Department at the Cave Hill Campus, Julia Horrocks, responded to the stranding last Saturday morning.

“The tests will take a little while but I don’t think we will be able to determine the cause of death,” Simpson said.

She said the whale’s identity was confirmed by officials at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Smithsonian Institute since dwarf sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales looked very much alike.

“We weren’t quite sure at first, but it’s adult. There were no injuries but the animal was very sun-burnt and the reason for the standing is unknown,” Simpson told Heather-Lynn’s Habitat. Samples were taken before the carcass was removed by the National Conservation Commission.

This was the third time a dwarf sperm whale had been stranded on the island’s beaches since 2003. Simpson said the fact that it was alone was not strange since that species of whale did not always travel in a pod.

Large crowd

When the mammal came ashore last Saturday, it drew a large crowd of curious tourists and locals.

“Once people saw it, they all came. Some thought it was a shark; some thought it was a dolphin and they were all asking questions. There was quite an interest,” Simpson said.

And this interest, she added, was good in that it fed curiosity and raised awareness.

“We just tried to answer as many questions as possible,” she said.

Dwarf sperm whales eat primarily squid and can dive as deep as 300 metres. Males can reach nine feet and weigh as much as 600 pounds. They are the smallest of all whales, sometimes smaller than dolphins, and are hardly ever seen at sea except in very calm conditions.

When it is threatened or is trying to evade predators, the whale ejects a viscous, dark liquid that usually hides it and allows it to escape.