Sixth Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly
21st July 2022
Update On the Stranded Shortfin Pilot Whales at Anegada
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to provide this Honourable House with an update on the Whale Stranding event within our waters during the first week of July 2022.
On Saturday July 2nd, my ministry was notified of a mass whale stranding on the Eastern Point of Anegada, just past the conch mounts that are frequently visited by residents and visitors. I was on travel duty, so the information was relayed to me as I was boarding my return flight to the territory. Chris Juredin and his non-Profit Organization “Beyond the Reef” happened to be in Anegada on another matter and quickly responded to the scene to assist to the stranded whales.
Madam Speaker, they were able to successfully rescue 2 whales by assisting them from the shallow silty sand areas around the Eastern Point of Anegada, into deeper waters, after several hours joining to their pod of about 80-100 whales that made it through the reef area.
On Virgin Islands Day, Monday July 4th, a team of government officials and I travelled to the Eastern Point of Anegada to assess the area where dozens of whales had been stranded and died. The delegation included:
- Acting Premier - Honourable Kye Rymer;
- Junior Minister for Trade - Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles,
- Acting Deputy Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour - Mervin Hastings, and
- Marine Biologist from the Environment and Climate Change Unit in the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour - Ms. Argel Horton.
Madam Speaker, we observed some 30-40 dead short-fin pilot whale carcasses spread along the shoreline. We were told that there were another 10-15 dead whales in and around the mangrove areas just prior to the conch mounts. While on site, we consulted with the Anegada fishermen, and the team from Beyond the Reef to determine the best way to dispose of the dead carcasses, after biopsy samples were taken with assistance from the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and Volunteers.
Madam Speaker, a number of people in Anegada depend on the conch mounts for their livelihoods, from lobster fishermen to local tour guides, as the area is an important tourism site. As such, the decision was made to dispose of the dead whales.
That afternoon, 11 whales that were still in the shallow waters were dragged out to sea by manually tying a rope on the whale flukes and pulling by boat.
Madam Speaker, on Tuesday July 5th, a backhoe was brought in to deal with the dead whales that were stranded along the beach. 39 whales were buried and 5 of these burial sites were GPS marked for possible removal in the future so that a full skeletal remain could be mounted on display.
Madam Speaker, to sum it all up;
- A total of 50 whales were disposed
- A total of 2 whales were saved; and
- A total of 3 whales floated away on their own
Madam speaker, biopsy samples were sent away for analysis but it is very important to keep in mind that results will take time and we may never know the true cause of this mass stranding as some of the whales would have been healthy and just coming to assist those that were sick or affected. We will however be able to indicate what population they came from and a number of other variables, as a large set of data was collected.
Full necropsies (similar to an autopsy on humans) were not done due to decomposition, this would have needed to be completed within 24 hours of the stranding for each animal, but the logistics for this made it nearly impossible.
Madam speaker, as a large ocean state it is very important that we equip ourselves to handle incidents such as this. As such, I have tasked my Ministry with initializing a local stranding network in the Territory.
The Government of the Virgin Islands continues to acknowledge the support of the cross sectional collaborations, with our Non-Government agencies:
To Mr. Christopher Juredin and his team at Beyond the Reef; Dr. Shannon Gore and her team from the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK); our local fishermen; and all other volunteers such as the BVI Rotary family, who came out, I say thank you. This work would have been impossible without your help and combined resources.