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Beached whales’ hearing badly damaged: agency

DISCONCERTING FINDINGS: Scans on nine dead pygmy killer whales showed abnormal shadows in their middle ears, and they all had blackened livers.

Medical examinations of several whales found that damaged hearing might be the reason they became stranded, the Ocean Conservation Administration (OCA) said on Friday, adding that it would set up guidelines for training marine mammal observers to help mitigate the effects of offshore development projects.

The agency late last month received successive reports that whales were stranded on beaches near Kaohsiung and Tainan.

Rescued whales were taken to pools at National Cheng Kung University’s Marine Biology and Cetacean Research Center.

Nine dead pygmy killer whales were sent for a computed tomography scan, or CT scan, OCA Marine Conservation Division senior specialist Ko Yung-chuan (柯勇全) said.

Abnormal shadows were observed in their middle ears, meaning that their hearing and ability to balance themselves might have been damaged by some disease, he said.

Initial autopsy results found their livers to be blackened, enlarged and inflamed, he said.

To clarify the cause of the whales’ shared symptoms, the agency would perform autopsies on their heads, Ko said.

The rescued pilot whale’s hearing was found to be so damaged that it is deaf, and shows no response to sounds of more than 120 decibels, the agency said, adding that this was the primary reason for its stranding.

The pilot whale now appears anxious and is unable to swim normally it the pool, it added.

The agency and other experts on April 25 rescued five pygmy killer whales, but only one was still alive as of yesterday, Ko said.

Survival chances of whales rescued in groups are relatively low, as the creatures need a large space to swim in and the water must be constantly refreshed, he said.

As cetaceans are sensitive to noise, local conservationists have raised concerns about the construction of offshore wind farms planned off the nation’s west coast.

The agency on Friday held the first meeting on training marine mammal observers with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, state-run Taiwan Power Co and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

The guidelines for observers might not be made available soon, but developers would be required to abide by submissions they made for the EPA’s environmental impact assessment process, Ko said.