- A pod of melon-headed whales, recently stranded in a bay on the Cape Verdean island of Sal, were guided back to sea in a rescue operation after being spotted by local residents. Of the nine whales that were stranded, seven made it to safety. Two did not survive.
The melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) - closely related to pilot whales and pygmy killer whales - is widespread throughout the world's tropical and sub-tropical waters, although not often seen by humans on account of its preference for deep water. The whale mostly feeds on small fishes and squids, which are abundant in Murdeira Bay on the west coast of the Cape Verdean island of Sal.
The bay is also temporary heaven for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeanglie), which come to nurse their calves between September and April each year. Residents therefore are used to sighting whales. Rescue operations headed by locals are however a new issue, demonstrating the growing environmental awareness on the archipelago.
"We congratulate the residents of Murdeira Bay for this excellent conservation rapid response," said Ricardo Monteiro from the Cape Verde office of the environmentalist group WWF. "For the first time residents, developers, construction workers and conservationists really worked together for a common conservation cause," he added.
This is not the first time melon-headed strandings have been reported in Cape Verde, an archipelago consisting of nine islands some 500km off the coast of West Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. In 2003, there was a mass stranding on the small western island of Santa Luzia, where more than 100 individuals died, according to figures from WWF. Santa Luzia is almost depopulated.
"Last year in Santo Antão Island, there were also reports of 9 whales stranded at Sinagoga," added Vanda Monteiro of Cape Verde's Fisheries Development Institute. Santo Antão is the north-western-most island of Cape Verde and has a very sparse population.
"This is the second stranding in less than a year in Cape Verde," Ms Moteiro added. The first stranding took place at Laginha beach on the larger island of São Vicente last April. Beach goers and government officials on the densely populated island were able to guide the whales out to sea with no casualties reported.
"Local people are in the front line of conservation and should be relied upon for such great conservation deeds," said Celeste Benchimol, a WWF coordinator in Cape Verde.
In Cape Verde, WWF is managing a marine and coastal conservation project with a view to helping to secure healthy habitats for whales and other species. "Specific efforts are currently being put into the creation of two Marine Protected Areas - one at Santa Luzia and another at Murdeira Bay," according to the environmentalist group. The project is still at an early stage, added Mr Benchimol.
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