Dead Huizhou Sperm Whale Was Pregnant Female

China Daily reported that an autopsy on the sperm whale that became stranded in Daya Bay, in South China’s Guangdong province, has revealed the whale was pregnant. A crane hoisted the dead sperm whale out of the Harbor last Wednesday. 
A developing 110 kg male fetus, about two meters in length, was recovered.

“It is the first time that an unborn baby has been found inside a stranded sperm whale in the world,” said Tong Shenhan, head of the land and marine life research institute of Xiamen city, who participated in the autopsy.

He believed that the finding would be of significance to the protection and rescue of sperm whale.

On Thursday, a group of about 20 experts from the School of Marine Sciences of Sun Yat-Sen University, Hong Kong Ocean Park and other institutes, conducted the autopsy in Huizhou Fishery Research and Extension Center, in Guangdong, taking samples of skin, fat, muscle and blood from the adult sperm whale.

They unexpectedly found milk in the whale’s breasts and then a placenta 2.6 meters in length.

The fetus will also undergo an autopsy, which is expected to take about one month due to its difficulty.

On Sunday morning, fishery authorities in Shenzhen city received a report of an adult whale trapped in fishing nets in waters off Daya Bay.

After the whale was freed from the nets, authorities and zoologists tried to guide it back into deep sea. However, it continued to swim in shallow waters off Shenzhen and Huizhou cities. It was confirmed to have been stranded near a wharf Tuesday afternoon and died Wednesday.

Tong said that the whale, estimated to be about 5 years old, was healthy and had no visible injuries.

He does not think it was tangled to death by fishing nets but the cause of death will be verified in at least a month.

The animal, weighing 14 tons and stretching 10 meters long, was lifted by a crane from the water in Huizhou port on Wednesday and was transported to Huizhou Fishery Research and Extension Center.

Huizhou has invited experts to conduct research on the whale examining its physiological structure, molecular biology, zoology and pathology, to provide more scientific data and theory for the protection of the endangered sperm whale.

The autopsy on the adult whale will continue over the next two days.

The city also plans to preserve four specimens of the animal’s skin, bone, viscera and placenta.


Sperm Whale Injured By Fishing Nets Trapped in Huizhou Harbor

A sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) received serious injuries to its tail while caught in a fishing net, which have left it only able to swim in circles, according to news portal (14/3/17).

The whale may have also damaged its sonar system, meaning it cannot find its way back to deeper waters.
The 12-meter-long mammal was found struggling in waters near Shenzhen on Sunday, suffering from several gashes with a tail fin that had been damaged by a fishing net.

Local divers and fishery officials worked together to release it from the net and guide it back to open waters.

However, the animal was too tired to make it away from the shore, and ended up in Huizhou Port on Monday, mere meters from the land. Huizhou is about 50 kilometers away from Shenzhen.

Local officials and 30 experts from the Hong Kong Ocean Park and the Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering under the Chinese Academy of Sciences are monitoring the animal. 

One expert suggested luring or driving the whale back to the sea by using whale sounds or those of predators.

However, the expert warned that the whale may have to be poisoned or blown up if rescue efforts fail.

Wu Gang, deputy director of the Huizhou Marine and Fisheries Bureau, said they will first try to treat the whale’s injuries and that euthanasia will only be considered as a last resort.

Sperm Whales in Hong Kong, the Tai Long Wan Stranding and the Cruise of the “Cachalot” from 1899

On July 21st 2003 at about 9am, a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) stranded alive on Tai Wan Beach in Sai Kung. The thought of any large whale in Hong Kong waters always surprises, but one as special and unique as a sperm whale is even more surprising.

Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales and get their unusual name from an oily waxy tissue in their head called “spermaceti”. They live in deep water and can dive deeper and longer than any other cetaceans – up to 2000m deep. They generally live offshore in water over a thousand metres deep where they feed on large squid and octopus. They tend to live in stable and long-term social groups, and they can live for up to 60-70 years.

Hong Kong waters are generally shallow and less than 40 m deep and not suitable for sperm whales. The sperm whale which stranded alive at Tai Long Wan Beach marked the first officially recorded sighting in Hong Kong. Previously the last recorded sighting in the wider Guangdong Coast was back in the 1950s.
With the help of Google and Project Gutenberg I have found much earlier record before 1899, though it is somewhat vague as to the exact location. In a book called ‘The Cruise Of The “CACHALOT”, Round The World After Sperm Whales’ by Frank T. Bullen, F.R.G.S., First Mate, published in 1899, the following mention occurs: “But, to the surprise of all, when we had arrived off the beautiful island of Hong Kong, to which we approached closely, we “raised” a grand sperm whale.”(Chapter 13). “Raised” here means caught and killed. It is not an official record, but I think the first mate of a whaling ship will have known how to recognize his primary target…

So sperm whales are no strangers to the offshore waters near Hong Kong and it shouldn’t surprise us too much that they may stray into shallow water. It is likely that the stranded animal at Tai Long Wan was sick, separated from its main pod, or drifted off course by the currents of two tropical depressions in the area at that time.

Chances of a rescue were slim from the outset as the whale probably already suffered from internal bleeding with its massive weight – no longer buoyed by water – exerting crushing pressure on the internal organs. Even if it had been successfully pulled out to sea again, it would not have been able to find food in the Hong Kong waters and would have been far from the deep water it normally lives in. A re-stranding would have been very likely. Sperm whales have hardly ever been rescued from beaches and released back to the ocean successfully.
The decision was made for a government veterinarian to euthanize the animal to prevent further unnecessary suffering.

A year after this stranding on the 24th January 2004, a sperm whale stranded on the coast of southern Taiwan, making headlines because the carcass famously exploded from the build up of decomposition gases while lying on a trailer on route through a small town (you can simply google: “exploding whale” for dozens of sites and archived news reports…). Five years later, on the 15th of January 2008 another sperm whale stranded on coast of Fujian (China Daily article with images) at a beach near Songxia Port in Changle. This was followed by a bigger stranding this year (2012) in Jiangsu Province where 4 sperm whales were stranded on March 16th. Let us all hope that this is not the start of a trend along the China coast.

All below images are courtesy of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS). If you enjoyed this article and the images, please consider a small donation to the HKDCS to support their excellent work. Oh – and please rate my blog and leave a comment. Thanks!

Four Sperm Whales Stranded at Yancheng City in Jiangsu Province

Although this incident happened not in Hong Kong but in Jiangsu north of Shanghai, in January of 2003 Hong Kong also had a sperm whale stranding. Sperm whales are large animals that roam large distances, so this stranding is relevant to Hong Kong marine life, too.

Four sperm whales that were stranded ashore on the 16th of March 2012 at Xintan Salt Field in the coastal city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province. The whales, including a female, were still struggling when they were spotted, residents said. Reports about the size of the whales varied widely, but the pictures speak for themselves:

Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
At first the whales were still found struggling to return to sea
Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu
Frontier defense soldier trying to keep the whale cool and moist
Sperm whale stranded at Yancheng in Jiangsu
A crowd gathered around one of the stranded sperm whales

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu
A boy standing on the side of the head of one of the whales
A police cordon is established around one of the whales…
Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
One of the whales in its full length

After more than 24 hours of rescue attempts the four whales died. Five rescue plans were put forward, including using helicopters and large vessels to pull the whales back out to sea, digging water channels to re-float them and waiting for a huge rising tide. “But because of the size and physical condition of the whales, all plans failed,” said Xu Xinrong, an animal researcher from Nanjing Normal University who specializes in cetacean mammals. “Small-sized whales sometimes can be rescued when they are stranded on the beach, but mass strandings of big whales is fatal,” Xu said. It was China’s first mass beaching of whales since 1985, when six whales died in the Fujian province. New footage of the incident is available here.

It was later discovered that pieces of flesh had been cut from at least one of the whales’ bodies for food. On March 18, some pieces of the sperm whales’ flesh were found cut away for food, according to a report by China Radio International. The cutting was likely done at night and about 100 kilograms of flesh was removed. ChinaSmack has an article on the incident (please be aware, the article has some swear words) with translations of Chinese internet users discussions on the incident which show a great deal of respect for whales and their conservation. Here are some of the images of the mutilations from the ChinaSMACK website:

Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu flesh cut off
Chunks of flesh were cut from the flukes
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu had teeth removed
Teeth were removed from the lower jaw of this male.
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with dorsal fin cut off
The small dorsal fin was cut off
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu has fluke flesh cut off
Chunks cut off the flukes of a stranded sperm whale
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with flesh cut out from back
Chunks cut of the lower back leading to the flukes.

Sperm whales, though distributed in nearly all of the earth’s oceans, prefer deep waters and can dive to a depth of 2,200 meters, said Xu. Local authorities said that disposing of the whale carcasses was now a problem. “Generally there are three ways to dispose of a whale carcass: make a specimen of it, bury it on the beach or let the tides take it back into the ocean,” Xu said. In the end they buried the whales in deep pits on the beach.

Sperm whales have stranded in the region before. In January 2004 a sperm whale that stranded in Taiwan made headlines because while being transported on a trailer through a town, it exploded due to the build up of gas from decomposition, spraying surrounding pedestrians and buildings with offal and blood.

exploded whale carcass in Taiwan
Build of of decomposition gases in the carcass caused it to explode during transit through a town.