Beached with an empty stomach

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Imagine yourself on a beach, exposed to the sun, dehydrated, and with an empty stomach. How long can you last? For the likes of me, who needs at least five liters of water per day, two hours and I’d be a goner. For these two symbolic marine animals, the megamouth shark and the bottlenose dolphin, two days.

Two miserable days of wallowing in shallow waters, getting ripped by the tide, and slowly dying. Our paths crossed at a time when all I can think of is sitting down under some shady tree, having endless discussion with my former classmates, while drinking my 6-liter a day ration of water.

The first call came at around seven in the morning, coming from a barangay official of Salvacion in Puerto Princesa City asking for assistance on what to do with a dead dolphin in their area.

According to him, a fisherman, who also happens to be a barangay peace officer called to inform them of the beached animal, which was first mistakenly thought of as a crocodile. By nine o’clock, a group of volunteers, this writer included, went to the stranding area. We were met by a group of locals debating on what happened, and why, of all places, does it have to die near their wharf.

“We saw it swimming around, alone, 2 days ago”, one of the local kids quipped by my side. A rotting smell greeted us as we walk to the jetty and we soon traced it to the floating, bloated carcass of the dolphin. Judging from the way it looks, it is easily two days dead, the bloating and foul smell no doubt accelerated by the intense heat of the sun. We opened up the belly of the dolphin, and lo and behold, there is but just the four of us left on the shore! (I guess not everybody can tolerate the smell).

The insides of the dolphin looked relatively healthy, and I was beginning to wonder what caused its death as there are no signs of foul play either, even on the externalities. Then we opened the stomach and found it empty. Not satisfied, we also opened portions of the intestine, still empty except for a few pairs of squid teeth.

What happened? Your guess is as good as mine. The next call came by midday of the same day. Just as we were about to have a late lunch, a message came through with a photo of a dead Megamouth shark. This one happened in the village of San Jose de Oro, Araceli, Palawan. A day’s ride away, we cannot personally respond. But thanks to technology and thru social media, we were able to assist virtually.

The municipal Agriculture officer was fortunately in the area and was able to lead the documentation and safekeeping of the carcass. Opening up the belly of the shark, she was surprised to discover an empty stomach and intestines. According to the locals, they’ve already seen the shark the day before, while it was still alive but is barely moving, let alone swim. It was just floating nearshore, in shallow waters.

The megamouth shark is a deep sea creature. And for them to surface, much more swim in shallow areas meant only one thing: utter distress. Again, in this case, your guess is as good as mine. Now, here are some facts: Dolphins are active predators and eat a wide variety of fishes, squids, and crustaceans such as shrimps. The foods available to a dolphin vary with its geographic location.

Dolphins show strong preferences for certain species of food fish. Coastal dolphins tend to eat fishes and bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Offshore dolphins tend to eat fishes and squid. Some offshore dolphins were found with deep-sea fishes in their stomachs. Adult bottlenose dolphins eat approximately 4% to 6% of their body weight in food per day. A nursing mother’s daily intake is considerably higher — about 8%.

The one that we retrieved is approximately 200 kilograms. Megamouth shark is one of the three species of sharks that are fed by filtration of plankton. It is the most primitive living species of the order Lamniformes. Its diet may include shrimp, copepods, and pelagic jellyfish. Due to its rarity, there is very little information on its food and dietary requirements. Nevertheless and judging from its size, it can be assumed that megamouth sharks require huge amount of plankton to feed itself on a daily basis. Many a bright mind would opine, these animals died of hunger.

I don’t know, and I do not have the professional knowledge to know, if it is indeed starvation that caused the death of these animals. But one thing is clear, they both died with empty stomachs.

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