In the time that Marine Parks staff were notified, two other whales were also stranded in nearby locations. Rescue efforts from Clive, Chad, Macca and Brad Wilson in the 'Firefox' vessel and Christo Haselden, Keith Galloway and volunteer Hayley Atkins in the vessel 'Shearwater' towed the three deceased whales to the beach on the lagoon. The whales were visibly injured and were being attacked by Galapagos whaler sharks and although possible alive when sighted, the whales were deceased upon rescue.
With the assistance of local residents and LHI Board staff, these rarely seen whales were buried on the island the following morning. The whales were photographed, measured and tissue DNA samples were taken for analysis before burial. The whales were all females and measured between 4.4m and 4.6 m in length. One female was found to have a calf, measuring approximately 1.2 m. The calf was retained and subsequently sent to veterinary doctor for necropsy and the DNA samples sent to Sandy Ingleby (Curator of Mammals) at Australian Museum for identification.
The whales are most likely to be beaked whales - a little known group of deep sea marine mammals with mysterious habits and apparently low abundance. Confirmation of species is yet to be confirmed and funds are being sought to assist with this process.
The exact causes of whale stranding event at Lord Howe Island will probably never be known, but research has shown that whales may strand for a number of reasons including sickness, impacts from low frequency noise, underwater seis-mic activity, weather and unfamiliar underwater topography. Some scientists have theorized that a single whale may strand itself due to illness or injury, swimming in close to shore to take refuge in shallow water and become trapped by the changing tide. Because whales are highly social creatures that travel in communities some strandings may occur when healthy whales refuse to abandon a sick or injured pod member and follow them into shallow water.
Many thanks to the various agencies, Lord Howe Island Board staff and Island residents who assisted with the event.