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Special Features | National

Mysterious whale deaths show state of Philippine oceans - marine biologist
The online news portal of TV5

A rash of sperm whale deaths off the coasts of Zambales, La Union, and Zamboanga earlier this week has raised questions on the circumstances behind their demise. Environment officials and experts are still investigating whether or not the whale deaths are related, but what is clear, they say, is that the deaths are related to the sorry state of Philippine waters.

Last Sunday, a pygmy sperm whale was stranded on the coast of San Narciso, Zambales. Locals tried to help to the sea mammal, but the thrre three-meter, 800-kilogram creature, was already suffering from a respiratory disease and could no longer head back to the water. It died on Monday afternoon.

Another pygmy sperm whale was found beached at the coast of San Fernando City, La Union, on the same day. While Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel from Ilocos gave "first aid and antibiotics" to the 2.74-meter, 400-kilogram animal, it was already weak and died the following day, Tuesday, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It is rare for pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) to be found in the shallow part of the sea, much less the beach, according to experts. These creatures usually reach up to 70 years old.

On Wednesday, another sperm whale was found floating dead near Sacol Island in Zamboanga. The large, 15.8-meter mammal is suspected to have died of still unknown causes two days before it was spotted by locals.

The health of marine animals like these whales is indicative of the health of the ocean they live in, said Dr. Lemnuel Aragones of the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network and UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology. That these creatures probably died of illnesses is a sign, he added, that humans are impacting the creatures’ aquatic habitat through activities such as water pollution, over-exploitation, and illegal fishing.

"Grabe na ang impacts ng human activities sa ating karagatan (Human activities are greatly impacting our seas)," said Aragones. Pollutants in the form of chemical toxins, as well as biotoxins, have reached the "food chain or food web," and are now "bio-accumulating on these mammals" – some of the top predators of the sea – and it showed in the wretched conditions of the three toothed whales.