Following public outcry over how 12 pilot whales were left by conservation officials to suffocate over the last week at a west Donegal beach, talks have been initiated between the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NWPS) over alleged mistreatment.
In a message from the founder and executive officer of IWDG, Professor Simon Berrow, voiced concerns over the handling of some of the stranded whales at Ballyness beach near Falcarragh and the need for an immediate meeting with the NWPS.
One wildlife service official acknowledged “terrible decisions were made” but said calls for help were made to the IWDG and not returned.
Referring to two stranded whales that were helped back into the water by Gareth Doherty, local environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast with Selkie Sailing in Derrybeg, Berrow writes: “Gareth, well done with all your efforts on the beach.
“These whales should have been euthanized after they re-stranded. It is not that difficult. Pentabarbitone or shooting would have been effective. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are seeking a meeting with NPWS to try and establish who is legally responsible for managing these live stranding events. IWDG think it is NPWS. It is simply not good enough to say there was nothing that could be done.”
In contrast, Pat Vaughan, a local district conservation officer for the National Parks and Wildlife Service in charge of the stranded whale operation at Ballyness, said during the week that ‘mercy killing’ could not be used.
The message on the Selkie Facebook left by Berrow – a national expert on marine life who is a full-time lecturer at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and has worked with the British Antarctic Survey and the International Whaling Commission, – reflects confusion surrounding the handling of the situation at Ballyness beach.
His communication highlights the lack of clear policy on such incidents in Ireland, not only with regard to which organization should be in charge but how to conduct a proper assessment about how the whales should be treated. After founding the IWDG in 1990, Berrow also helped establish the Irish Basking Shark Study Group in 2009.
A clear SOP (standard operating procedure) for dealing with whale strandings has become ever more important in Donegal as the ‘Ballyness tragedy’ is the 13th such incident in the county this year, not to mention the pod of 32 whales that died in Rutland Island two years ago that were cut up and transported to Cavan for incineration.