Philippines: A treasure lost before it was found
By Darrell D. Blatchley, 10th August 2014;
The word treasure draws different emotions and reactions from people. It could be images of a cave filled with rubies, diamonds and gold bars. Or it could be a dead whale on a beach.
This is that story.
On December 19, 2012, D’ Bone Collector Museum Inc. received a call from Maco, a small town in Compostela Valley province. Two large “dolphins” had stranded and needed help. As we rushed to the site, (it’s an hour and 30-minute drive from Davao City) a text came in saying one dolphin had died and that the other was still strong. “Release it” if it swims strong, we told them. At first the smaller one would not swim off until it nestled one last time against the larger “dolphin” then slowly, it swam away.
When we got there we saw that this was first, not a dolphin and; two, the smaller one was its baby. It had stayed with its mother until she died, and sensing her mother was dead, continued on without her. To say ‘small’ is an understatement. The baby was 8 feet long. The mother was 15 feet long. At first we thought it was a Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris). We loaded it and brought it to the Museum in Davao for further study as to the cause of death and preservation.
We arrived at the Museum at 9pm and took pictures of the whale and posted them on Facebook for other experts from around the world to help identify the whale as it was “different” than others we had found. There were things that were not “normal” and within 30 minutes, emails started flooding our inbox.
One expert in Norway said that it was most likely a Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens). A whale that has only stranded in the Philippines once and estimated 20 times worldwide. Immediately we knew we had something rare. With all whales and dolphins that come into the museum, we perform a necropsy to find the cause of death but also to collect biological specimens such as meat and internal organs for DNA and further studies.
We also do castings of the animal to show what they looked like alive.
When we opened the stomach the first thing we noticed was the heavy amount of parasitic worms. Parasites are found in all living animals though a healthy immune system keeps them in balance. If a whale or dolphin is sick or dehydrated, the parasites take over. Inside the stomach we found a two-feet nylon rope blocking the intestines and a piece of coal. Yes coal. It was the first time we had ever found coal in a whale. Coal, even though organic in nature, does not digest. It semi floats on the bottom of the ocean as a shrimp or squid would. The plastic nylon rope was ruled as the cause of death. But this whale’s story did not end there.
A large national paper did a story on the whale as a rare “Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale” dying due to plastic. The DNA results came back that it was NOT a Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale. It was listed under Unknown. To be Unknown is to be unnamed.
Inside the stomach two new species of parasitic worms were also discovered. So this whale was stumping the experts. The Expert from Norway again emailed and said it might be a Hotaula Beaked Whale (aka Derayinagala’s Beaked Whale). So DNA tests were run again to compare the species. They came back positive for that species. The Hotaula Beaked Whale up to this time was not a confirmed species, just a “rumored” new species as no complete animal had ever been found – just fragments, a broken skull here, a fin there. This was the first time this species of whale was seen in its complete form.
In 2013 it was listed as a new species of whale (Mesoplodon hotaula) from only eight ever found and the one from Davao being the only one complete at that time. She is now on display at the Museum. The only skeleton of her species in the world.
So “Treasure Lost Before it was Found”. The Davao Gulf had a new species of whale that was 15 feet long and weighed over 800 kilos. It died due to a plastic nylon rope that had been cut off and discarded. Did the baby survive? We don’t know. It was never reported that it restranded but that may just mean it didn’t strand again near humans.
An animal does not have to bring rubies or gold to be considered a treasure. The fact that the Davao Gulf is so blessed with so many species, some of them new, shows we have a treasure. Would one throw garbage on the Mona Lisa painting? The Davao Gulf is the Mona Lisa of Davao. Let us do our best to protect our treasures, lest we lose them before we even knew what we had.
Source: Mindanao Times