In a drama unfolding from Wednesday, four sperm whales travelled into the shallow waters between the main islands of Streymoy and Esturoy in the Faroe Islands amidst growing fears that they would strand on the shore. As helpless onlookers watched, one whale, who already appeared to be injured, was swept into a bridge piling. Local Faroese people have been watching and waiting to see what will become of the whales. Large vessels are unable to navigate into the shallows where the whales have become isolated and so observers are continuing to wait with the hope that the whales will find their way back out to sea.
Latest reports from the Faroes indicate that one whale stranded on the shore and died overnight, while two other whales appear to have been freed and moved off into deeper waters. One whale remains stuck in the same location.
Responding to strandings or beachings of sperm and other large whales is extremely challenging. Once stranded, attempts to refloat these whales are sometimes possible, but often individuals must be humanely put to sleep if they are ill, injured, or incapable of being returned to deeper waters. Although the reasons are not fully understood, highly social toothed whales, such as sperm and pilot whales, are known to strand in large numbers and even if refloated, often linger nearby unwilling to abandon pod mates or distressed family members who remain behind.
Whales and dolphins suffer physically as a result of being out of the water for prolonged periods of time, an experience which is undoubtedly psychological stressful. In addition, a stranded whale or dolphin could be suffering from an underlying, undiagnosed medical condition.