17. A Whale of an event!

They are a curious mixture of love and cruelty. Living together in a matriarchal society in the ocean, the huge mammal feeds its young, sometimes for as long as 15 years! They are also called the cheetahs of the deep, as they pursue their prey several hundred meters under water and dive up to 1000 meters. We are referring to the Short Finned pilot Whales which are even reported to harass sperm whales and dolphins, perhaps to eat them!
Adult males are 18ft in length. They can weigh for 1000kgs to 3000kgs. They are born weighing 60 kgs. Males live for 45 years and female for 40 years. They are very sociable and move around in groups of 10-50. The females are seen taking care of calves who are orphaned. Males may mate with several females.
So it was a rude shock when the people of Manapadden village in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu found a 100 of them lying on the shore. Forty five died before anyone could do anything. Fishermen tried to spray water on them and try to drag them into deep water with their boats.
Why did the whales get washed ashore? Some blame it on the earthquake in Indonesia; many feel it is a sign that the sea is restless and perhaps warning them of a tsunami. These whales communicate by using call dialects. Perhaps one of the animals was stranded due to illness or while looking for food. Thirty six of the surviving whales were pulled by boats into deep water. The younger ones responded well. The Whales always move around in groups like wolves or elephants. So, if the lead whale makes a mistake, all others just follow them. Temperature fluctuations caused by heavy rains can change currents in the depths of the ocean, which result in the whales taking the wrong route. No other fish died in that area.
Overlooking the beach is a lovely church and a light house. Fishermen are very upset because even if a whale gets caught in a net by mistake, they release it. “It is a so friendly to humans,” they say. “Could an earthquake in Indonesia have triggered changes in the sea bed?” they asked.
The ocean is sensitive to so many happenings on Earth. It is even more sensitive to man’s activity. Humans are usually quite insensitive to the impact of their activities on the ocean. Oil drilling on the sea bed, the effluents let out of factories, hot water that is part of many industrial processes, all seriously affects the millions of creatures that live in the ocean. Of course, the garbage and plastic carried into the ocean by rivers, the sewage of cities certainly harm life in the ocean.
But what is often forgotten, is the fact that all this affects humans who then consume the fish. Life after all is a perfect circle!
Rekha Shetty
Water Warrior