A necropsy done on the carcass of a dead whale which beached itself in Moruga earlier this week has found that it died from severe parasitic meningitis.
The Trinidad & Tobago Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TTMMSN) issued a statement on the latest findings after a list of questions was sent to TTMMSN Coordinator Dr Carla Phillips Savage enquiring about the possible causes of the whale’s death.
This week a total of five whales beached – four in Moruga and one in Maracas Bay. Only one survived and returned to sea.
Professor Phillips-Savage and veterinary pathologist Dr Rod Suepaul who are lecturers at the University of the West Indies, School of Veterinary Medicine conducted the necropsy on one of the whales on Friday and found that the stranded mammal was “unable to maintain its equilibrium on reflotation as a result of a severe parasitic meningitis affecting multiple areas of the animal’s cerebellum (the portion of the brain responsible for posture, balance, motor control and coordination).”
The TTMMSN said, “ Significant parasitism was also observed to be associated with the urogenital tract, where numerous large parasitic cysts were found in to be attached to the reproductive organs. The animal also had multiple stomach ulcers and numerous parasitic nodules of varying sizes throughout the stomach wall. No food was present in the stomach or intestines. Samples of multiple organs were taken for further analysis, including, brain, kidney, liver, spleen, reproductive organs, acoustic fat, blubber, muscle, lung, heart, among others.”
The network added marine mammals that wash ashore, especially those that wash ashore singly, are typically ill and may be harbouring infectious organisms that may have the potential to be detrimental to humans and other animals.
Urging the public to avoid handling and or consuming marine mammals that wash ashore, the TTMMSN said this poses a significant public health risk.
Meanwhile, acting director of the Institute of Marine Affairs Rahanna Juman said the IMA had not done any research into the cause fo the whale beaching, noting that the IMA will be working in conjunction with the Wildlife Section, the TTMMSN and other agencies.
“Once called upon, we will assist,” she said.
However general secretary of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea Gary Aboud said local scientists should consider all possible factors that could contribute to frequent beaching of whales and dolphins.
“One factor is there is a series of seismic surveys that currently occur in Guyana and we have asked these scientists to consider the possibility of this as a possible contributory factor to these beachings in Moruga. Between Venezuela and Guyana we have more than 1,000 kilometres of coastline and what we are seeing in Trinidad may just be the tip of the beachings that may be impacted by seismic surveys,” Aboud said.
He recommended that groups like the TTMMSN lobby government to ensure that the Environmental Management Authority request Environmental Impact Assessments for seismic surveys.
“Currently we don’t know the impact of a seismic survey on the fisheries and marine species. There is a tremendous amount of science that says seismic survey destroy the navigational capacity of the marine mammals and there are two studies which show that they kill the microorganisms from within a 1.2-kilometre radius,” Aboud said.
He noted that Caricom should have unified environmental legislation.
“Seismic surveys in Guyana or Venezuela have a transboundary impact so we must have a unified approach to the marine eco-system,” he added.