Short-Finned Pilot Whale Washes Up Dead Near Nim Shue Wan, Lantau

It appears that shortly after the first sighting of a short-finned pilot in Hong Kong (see post from January 14th), we now have the first stranding of a dead short-finned pilot whale. Ocean Park’s Cetacean Stranding Response Team investigated an adult female short-finned pilot whale stranding case today at Cheung Sha Lan, Discovery Bay. It’s 365cm long and as the carcass was severely decomposed, the cause of death cannot be determined. The Team and a veterinarian have done a necropsy on site. The preliminary findings show:

• A 12cm superficial wound was found near the fluke, though it unclear if this is pre-mortem or post-mortem
• A thin blubber layer of 1.5cm (mean blubber layer thickness of adult female short-finned pilot whale is 1.91cm), indicating that the dolphin was relatively thin and weak

Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF

The team sent the head, flippers and dorsal fin to Hong Kong Veterinary Imaging Centre for Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, and collected tissue samples for further testing.

Many people asked if this short-finned pilot whale is the same one people sighted at Tsim Sha Tsui on January 13. The dorsal fins on cetaceans have unique characteristics that allow identification of individuals, but since the dolphin’s dorsal fin was severely decomposed, no identification can be made as yet. Yet, as short-finned pilot whales are rare in Hong Kong, and the length of the carcass is similar to the estimated length of the pilot whale sighted in Tsim Sha Tsui (about 3 meter), the possibility can not be ruled out that they are the same individual.

In case you are wondering how this white carcass could have come from a black short-finned pilot whale: this often happens to decomposing whales and dolphins. I once saw a 0.5 m Finless porpoise washed up dead at the Cape D’Aguilar Marine Reserve. Normally Finless Porpoises are black, but the carcass was also white.

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