Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stranded Whale Cont'd

We showed up in the morning with a van full of dive gear and my inflatable dinghy on a trailer. The DPNR guys were happy to see us, but said they didn't know if we could help since they didn't have a plan yet. We all went to the beach closest to the stranded whale and saw that overnight it had gotten itself into some slightly deeper water. Great news because this meant that the weight of the whale wasn't slowly suffocating it.
The plan was made to utilize my dinghy and two other larger boats. The larger boats had a 500ft line that they stretched across the back of the whale in order to catch its tiny dorsal fin to give it a boost in the right direction. Rather than pulling on the whale, the boats just let the wind and current move them enough to gently nudge it. My job was to maneuver my tiny boat around behind and beside the whale to encourage it away from obstacles.
Once all the boat activity had driven several large sharks a little farther from the whale, I was asked to hop in with snorkel gear and get pictures to try and identify it using various humpback databases.

The sharks were still not far away. This is an 8 or 9ft tiger shark that passed by me a couple of times.
The whale made a lot of progress, though it didn't seem to be helping itself out much. Mostly just drifting in what happened to be the right direction. The right direction brought it to one last small reef through which it needed to pass to get to deeper water and out of the bay.
Unfortunately, the whale didn't thread the needle through the small passage. It ended up just off to the side and the tidal flow and wind pushed it up against the reef. The whale then started to arch and thrash and nearly threw itself all the way across cutting gashes in its skin until it seemed to get stuck upside down. All of us were holding our breath hoping that she would turn over so she could breathe. After several attempts, she made it over and took a few minutes to catch her breath before starting to roll back  to the wrong side. 
Again, she was almost there when she just stopped. We watched for nearly 45 minutes for any sign of a breath, but it never came. The director of DPNR's fish and wildlife department got in and checked for pupil response and found none. 
We packed up and left as a tow boat was called in to drag her body off the reef and out to sea.
From now on when I'm diving, I'll never hear whalesong the same way again.

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