At least 15 melon-headed whales found dead in Catanduanes

Rhaydz B. Barcia
At least 15 melon-headed whales found dead in Catanduanes

Some of the melon-headed whales or electra dolphins killed following blast fishing in San Andres, Catanduanes, on October 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of the Municipality of San Andres, Catanduanes Facebook page/Website Development Office of San Andres and PCG-San Andres

Photo courtesy of the Municipality of San Andres, Catanduanes Facebook page/Website Development Office of San Andres and PCG-San Andres

The whales are part of a pod of 70 that were stranded in the coastal waters of San Andres, Catanduanes

At least 15 melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) were found dead in Catanduanes on Thursday, October 8, following their mass stranding in the province’s coastal waters.

The 15 are part of a pod of about 70 melon-headed whales that were stranded in a mangrove area in San Andres town, and had been monitored in another coastal area of the town starting early Wednesday morning, October 7.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Bicol spokesperson Nonie Enolva told Rappler that blast fishing apparently caused the mass stranding of the whales.

“Blast fishing is the cause of the mass stranding. We cannot ascertain where the blast fishing took place. It could be anywhere near the area or within Lagonoy Gulf and Maqueda Channel,” Enolva said.

Maqueda Channel is located within the areas of Caramoan, Presentacion in Camarines Sur and Catanduanes. “This is a vast fishing ground,” the BFAR official said.

Enolva said 9 whales were reported dead on Thursday morning, October 8, but 6 more were recorded that night, raising the death toll to 15.

BFAR Bicol personnel in Catanduanes found the dead whales with wounds in their eardrums, fins, and blow holes.

‘The whole story’

The San Andres municipal government provided the timeline of the mass stranding on its official Facebook page, to give the “whole story” behind the incident.

It said that the pod of about 70 whales were first seen near the shores of Barangay Wagdas between 7 am to 8 am on October 7. As they were getting too close to the shore, some residents moved to drive them to deeper waters until they were seen swimming away.

The same pod was later seen on the coast of Barangay Bon-ot also in San Andres, which village officials reported to the Municipal Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Office, the Philippine Coast Guard San Andres Station, and other local authorities.

Since the area is a swimming spot, beachgoers were seen getting too close to the whales, either by swimming or on boats, with some even taking selfies with the mammals, the municipal government said. This happened before authorities arrived to guide the whales to deeper waters, an operation that lasted until 10 pm. 

But the following morning, Friday, a fisherman reported to local authorities that he saw the pod back near the shore before 6 am, this time in a big mangrove area in the boundary of Barangay Bon-ot and Barangay Yocti of San Andres. 

Mangrove area in San Andres, Catanduanes
SEARCH AND RESCUE. Philippine Coast guard personnel search for melon-headed whales stranded in a mangrove area in San Andres, Catanduanes.
Photo from the Municipality of San Andres, Catanduanes Facebook page/Website Development Office of San Andres and PCG-San Andres

Authorities were called back to the area to save the whales, but some of the whales were found lifeless. Some of them were found trapped in the mangroves, the municipal government said, and the team resumed efforts to guide the rest of the pod to deeper waters.

San Andres Mayor Peter Cua arrived to check the incident and reported it to the provincial government.

Later, more dead whales were found. The responding team also scoured the mangrove area for any more trapped whales.

The dead whales, most of them retrieved from the mangrove area, were brought ashore to be buried. Samples were taken from the whales to determine their cause of death.

‘Educational campaign’

The San Andres government said one of the possible reasons for the mass stranding suggested by experts is a possible underwater “geothermal activity” that kept the pod from returning to deeper waters.

It also said that the incident has prompted the municipal government to conduct an “educational campaign” that would prepare residents and government personnel on how to handle mass stranding of whales in the future.

The municipal government also reiterated its commitment to protect the environment.

Enolva said BFAR Bicol recorded the death of a common bottlenose dolphin killed after it got entangled in a net in in Bahao, Libmanan, Camarines Sur, on Sunday, October 4.

She said that there was also mass stranding of dolphins in Tinambac, Camarines Sur, in 2018, where 4 dolphins died.  –

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