Invasive Research - Part 2

by firmm Team

Text: Eleonore Op de Beeck, Veterinary firmm

Suggestion: read first Part 1 by Jörn Selling.

The whale watching season 2012 started off to be pretty good when we saw “Curro”, one of our male pilot whales that was seriously injured 2008 presumably by a boat propeller and again last season by an unknown source, showing a big and deep cut at the proximal area of the dorsal fin…we saw him this year after thinking he would not make it through the winter but luckily he did. Nevertheless what remains of his dorsal fin after a long healing time and lots of dead skin falling off, has a huge scar and has fallen to one side making it very uncomfortable for the animal. Not only that, but even if his group approaches the boat, “Curro” will never come close after this unfortunate and traumatic incident.

This is one of the big problems we have in the Strait. Unfortunately this year we found, if possible, more problems again caused by humans. One research group here at the Strait now decided to trace the giants of the sea by putting chips on them, as much as I can understand, being a veterinarian and how important research is, I am a firm believer that animal rights and animal wellbeing go first. These “chipping” methods are causing skin damage to the animals, as the way they insert the chip is by sticking part of the chip hooks into the skin, creating an area of inflammation and infection when not done with sterile material.


Our Foundation has been following these animals for years, 14 years to be exact, knowing their travel routes very well, we know when these animals feed, when these animals travel depending on the tides, on the times of the day, we have never used invasive methods and yet we do pretty well in finding and knowing the whereabouts of these giants.

We have given names to these animals and are able to identify the animals belonging to a certain family group, all this by photo-identification. Hundreds and hundreds of photos have helped to obtain this knowledge. And when taking pictures of them, Gonzo, one of the big males, has been chipped, luckily the chip fell off but now he is left with an ugly scar on the left side of his dorsal fin, the other side of the dorsal fin shows even a worse scenario as the basal area of the dorsal fin has a big wound which by the look of the picture looks not only infected but already shows signs of necrosis (tissue death) all along the basal area causing the dorsal fin to fall over the right side.


What this will bring as consequences we do not know yet but truth be told, animals are being molested and stressed, which we all know the consequences of that.

Another animal that we know very well is “Edu”, another giant male that has been chipped as well; the chip in this case is still on, causing inflammation of the area which possibly is making the animal pretty uncomfortable.

Edu Edu

This animal is part of the family group of “Curro”, which is the big male that has been badly injured by the propeller. ”Edu” is “Curro”s guide and protector. When “Edu” is being chipped that created not only stress for “Edu” but for “Curro” as well watching his “protector” molested.

The causes of many diseases that we see in our wild aquatic animals are still under study, but it is a fact that stress is involved in many of them bringing the immune system down and making the animals more vulnerable to infections.

Pursuing these animals, shooting a chip on them…this causes a lot of stress and is definitely not helping the already detrimental situation they live in at the Strait of Gibraltar (pollution, acoustic contamination, etc).


At our foundation we understand the importance of research and the willingness to learn about these precious animals, but after observing what is happening to them we wished for a better and less harmful way to do so….

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