1979: 135 whales die on Newfoundland shore
• By Monday, July 16, the rest of the whales perished on the stretch of southern Newfoundland coast as a result of asphyxiation caused in part by their own weight.
• Scientists performed autopsies on the whales in hopes of discovering what caused their misguided journey to shore. Local fish plants moved in to process the rotting remains for oil and blubber. The whales were beginning to emit a rancid smell into the community.
• The pilot whale is one of the most common inshore species in Newfoundland waters. Also known as pothead whales or blackfish, they can be spotted off the shore as early as May and as late as October.
• Within its species Globicephala melaena, the pilot whale is second only in size to the killer whale. Female pilot whales can grow to about 3.5 metres in length and can weigh up to 1.5 tonnes. Males grow to about seven metres and can weigh up to three tonnes. Males can live to be 45 years old, while females live as long as 60 years.
• At one time, the pilot whale population off Newfoundland was thought to be about 50,000. Extensive whaling operations dramatically reduced the species numbers, with about 10,000 killed in one season alone in the mid 1950s.
• The hunt for pilot whales was banned in 1972 due to low numbers of the species and a decline in demand for their flesh. It was traditionally sold.
• Pilot whales are extremely social, and among the noisiest whales in the waters off Newfoundland. In order to communicate with each other they use echolocation, which includes a wide array of whistles, pops and clicks.
• Mass beachings of pilot whales have occurred in Newfoundland for decades, yet the reasons behind them are not fully understood.
• At the time of this clip, marine researchers blamed the beaching on a misguided instinct that could have forced the whales to shore to give birth.
• Local residents blamed the tragedy on either a lack of food or oil pollution in the area. Oil had recently been found on fishing nets and dead seabirds.
• More recently, researchers have cited a combination of smaller factors as the potential cause for the mass strandings. These include: gently sloping beaches that can confuse the whales' sonar, unusual magnetic fields and the presence of food very close to the shore.
Also on July 16:
• 1945: U.S. scientists explode the first atomic bomb in New Mexico (the "Trinity test"), using Canadian U-235 (uranium) refined in Port Hope, Ont.
• 1970: A 54-year-old language fight in Manitoba ends when the legislature approves a bill allowing the use of French as a language of instruction in any public school with enough French-speaking students.
• 1988: Hockey star Wayne Gretzky marries American actress Janet Jones in Edmonton.
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 16, 1979
Guest(s): Keith Hay
Host: George McLean
Reporter: Rick Seaward
Last updated: January 10, 2013
Page consulted on April 2, 2013
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