Whale standings are not uncommon, sadly. Every so often a rescue attempt hits the headlines and becomes news world-wide.
But how exactly are whales rescued?
How Whales are Rescued
If a pod of whales becomes stranded in shallow water, boats are used to herd them out to sea. The vessels are manoeuvred to form a horseshoe shape around the whales from where they move in slow stages towards the sea, encouraging the whales to move with them. If the whales are still reluctant to move, a sonar ping can be used, which irritates the whales into moving, without hurting them.
In the dangerous situation of a whale becoming beached (stranded on the shore) there are several important actions to be taken by whale rescuers. Out of water, the heavy weight of an adult whale (over 6,000 pounds) puts pressure on the animal’s internal organs. Trenches can be dug in the sand, close to the whale, to try and relieve some of this pressure. Wet cloths are placed on the whale’s back, to help prevent it from drying out. If time becomes critical, a rescue team may use huge stretchers to place the whale on and attempt to return it to water. However, this is risky for the whale, which could get dangerously stressed, and for the rescuers, who are dealing with an extremely heavy weight.
Freezing in Nova Scotia
2017 was not a good year for successful whale rescues in Nova Scotia, a representative of the Marine Animal Response Society commented. So there was a positive note when, on a minus 10ºc New Years Day in 2018, a successful rescue was made of a single beached pilot whale at Rainbow Haven Beach, near Halifax.
Within an hour of the stranding being shared on social media, over 100 volunteers arrived. A channel was shovelled in the sand, for the whale to take to the sea when the tide came in. But, with the danger of pressure injuring the whale’s organs, it was decided to roll it onto a reflotation pontoon. Dozens of people worked together to drag the whale back into the ocean. When it was in deeper waters, surfers in wetsuits took over the task of helping the whale to navigate past the sandbars that had trapped it in shallow waters during low tide.
Not Once, but Twice
International media attention was focused on the efforts to save a large pod of pilot whales in Iceland in August 2018. The unfortunate whales had swum into the Kolgrafarfjörður fjord, in west Iceland, where the pod leader was beached after becoming tangled up in the large amounts of kelp in the fiord. The leader was freed from the kelp, and when currents became less strong with the ebb of the tide, rescue workers in boats guided the whales towards the exit. Then they were taken past the point where the current is strongest, and out to sea
However, the next day, the whales returned to the same fiord, once again becoming stranded in the shallow waters. This time, the whales were guided about 15 kilometres out to sea, much further than the first time. This successful rescue involved twenty five people, including three police officers.