24 pygmy killer whales found dead in S. Taiwan since April

Animals washed ashore weakened by bacterial infection

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A pygmy killer whale returns to sea in late June after a two-month treatment by expert team. 

A pygmy killer whale returns to sea in late June after a two-month treatment by expert team.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two dozen pygmy killer whales have been found dead along the coasts of southern Taiwan since April.

According to post-mortem examinations of the pygmy killer whales, which despite their name are actually a type of oceanic dolphin, most of them had serious infections in their liver, lungs, and spleen, said Huang Hsiang-wen (黃向文), minister of the Ocean Conservation Administration. Experts also identified Klebsiella, a type of bacteria that can cause various infections, said Huang.

The infections are believed to have made the dolphins unable to withstand strong currents, resulting in their being stranded, reported the Public Television Service on Thursday (July 9). A total of 26 pygmy killer whales have been found stranded on the southern Taiwanese coast since April, with only two surviving.

The number is already double that of the entire year of 2019, in which only 13 whales were stranded. The number stranded in 2018 was 30, and their distribution indicates the dolphins are more likely to be stranded in southern Taiwan's coastal areas in spring and summer.

When the immune system of a dolphin is weakened, it is susceptible to bacterial infection, said Wang Hao-ven (王浩文), director of the Marine Biology and Cetacean Research Center at the Tainan-based National Cheng Kung University. When one is infected, it can easily spread the pathogen to others, he added.

A black-and-gray pygmy killer whale was recently returned to the sea after receiving treatment from a team of experts. It was found stuck on a wave breaker in Kaohsiung Harbor a couple of months ago with lung inflammation and a severe wound on its left pectoral fin.

Experts are calling on the government to allocate resources and set up an alert system so that rescue teams will be able to discover stranded pygmy killer whales more quickly.