We make a difference

ImageI have been based in New Zealand for more than a year now.

I live in this beautiful, quite isolated country at bottom right of the world maps. Possibly because of the spatio-temporal distance from all other land masses on the planet, the news here tend to widely cover local events.

A few weeks ago the story of 65+ stranded pilot whales was everywhere online, on papers and tv. The event is not unusual per se: a stranding is sadly quite common news down here and pilot whales are known to be often involved in mass stranding. There are a few hypotheses, but ultimate reasons are still unknown. But this doesn’t want to be a scientific post, so for those interested in the science behind a stranding, I suggest you take it from here.

This wants to be a social emotive activist post.

I was astonished by the interventions in occasion of this last stranding. Or I should say multiple stranding. A large pod of pilot whales beached and, although a few euthanized, the majority of animals was successfully refloated (i.e. sustained and looked after in shallow water and led to deeper waters). They stranded again shortly after. Refloated again. Stranded again. Successfully refloated one more time.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) mobilized personnel and boats.

ImageThere were people day and night, tide allowing, in the water, on the beach or on boats, in weather conditions often off-putting. DOC was not alone. They could not do that without the dozens volunteers who flocked to the site. This voluntary intervention unit was brilliantly managed by a local organization called Project Jonah. The charity was founded in 1974 based on “a passionate belief that caring about marine mammals is simply the right thing to do”. They say “Our strength comes from our volunteers; everyday Kiwis that give up their time to help marine mammals through our rescue, action and protection programs. Whether they’re picking up litter on beaches or getting hands on in rescuing stranded whales, they’re out there helping. Whatever the weather.” (and trust me, weather and water temperature here get quite nasty). They run training sessions all over the country to teach “basic skills needed to rescue stranded dolphins and whales” (NB: participants pay to attend), they coordinate their “doctors” and do great awareness. They indeed did great in this situation. They indeed did great in creating a network of skilled passionate volunteers in the last decades.

I do believe that we, the Red Sea community, are as responsive as the kiwis. We do not seem to have formal procedures of intervention nor an established marine megafauna stranding response network, however our caring for marine wildlife together with some guidance (either through HEPCA or other organizations) can compensate, as we have seen in the past. Dolphin stranding are only occasional in the Egyptian Red Sea, most often involving one or two dead animals washed ashore, but Agnese had the chance to collaborate with several dive centres to monitor reported sick or injured turtles. Also, we have recently read about the turtles being rescued, treated and then released in the Mediterranean Sea.

Those are great community success!!

This country in the deep south of the world is showing me one of the strongest sense of ownership towards natural resources I have ever seen. The fact that politics often pursue consumptive short-term exploitation approaches can be quite frustrating, true, but people keep reacting passionately: they keep on getting informed, sharing information, campaigning, calling for action and taking actions to protect their natural heritage.

The same ardour we have seen in Egypt so many times in the past.
Giftun. Illegal shark fishing. Coal.
Campaigns that have actually saved some of our treasures.

Grassroots movements are crucial.
An informed and aware community is the last line of defence.
We are a great community and we have already taken the responsibility of caring for the Red Sea on us.
We can be a great line of defence indeed.


Now, since the post started with the news of a stranding, just a quick reminder.
If you find yourself next to dead, sick or beached animals, we urge you to always follow simple first aid intervention rules.

1- DON’T TOUCH! Unless you are trained and know what to do, keep hands off. Improper interventions could do worse!


2- KEEP CALM AND CALL FOR HELP: Remind others to follow basic health and safety rules. If possible, ask a few people to help you create a cordon around the animal. If the animal is alive, try to keep the crowd calm to avoid extra stress. Make sure dogs and cats do not come close. Call HEPCA at 065-3445035 and be ready to provide basic information such as species involved, number of animals, alive/dead, location (as precise as possible).


By Bill Trotter, BDN.

3- USE PROTECTIONS: Do not touch unless instructed to do so and, in this case, always wear gloves and a protective face mask. Handling a carcass is definitely not healthy. On top of that, the animal might have died or being suffering from pathogens that could be transmitted.


It doesn’t need to be fancy, a regular face mask would do.

4- HELP DOCUMENT: With the time passing, the scene changes: this could undermine chances to identify causes of stranding and/or death. If you have a phone or a camera, please take some pictures and videos of the animal and the surrounding environment. Also brief notes can help reconstruct the scene (e.g. “h 12:13 the tide is rising, the body hits a rock”)


5- REPORT ILLEGALITIES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! We all know that it is strictly forbidden to sell, trade and export marine curios (sharks, turtles, shells, coral reef fish, corals, etc). If you see them being taken, sold or exported, please report it to HEPCA, we will inform the relevant authorities. Harassment is also taken seriuosly, please help us share code of conducts and report any misbehaviour observed.


Greetings from the bottom right corner,

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One Response to We make a difference

  1. carol sellers says:

    So glad to read your upbeat, passionate story about the pilot whales, was fortunate to observe the orcas in the San Juans last summer on a trip with my sisters; such a thrill; am off on another Earthwatch studying sea turtles in Eleuthra this wk; nothing will compare to the flora and fauna of the Red Sea tho, what a privilege and honor to have been a participant….hope school is going well . I have visited New Zealand which is an amazing place, both the north and south islands are fascinating in terms of geology and the fauna, loved the crazy Kea’s, hiking on the Franz Josef glacier, bathing in the hot springs, and paddling thru the glowworm cave. Hope you get to have some fun while you are there. Thanx for keeping in touch.
    Carol Sellers

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