Posted on Sunday, 24 March 2013
The chaotic stranding event of 55 False Killer whales on Long beach four years ago was fresh in my mind when we received an early morning phone call this past Sunday. 18 False Kiler whales had been reported stranded on Noordhoek beach. We immediately got our wetsuits and gear and raced for Noordhoek to see how we could help.
This time I was a little more prepared for the emotional sight of these helpless whales stranded on the beach but it was still a terrible sight. For me there is nothing worse than seeing an animal that is struggling, in pain and one that is going through a huge amount of trauma. But, with our feelings set aside Chris very quickly instructed the 50 people who had already gathered to start stabilising the whales as quickly as possible. This meant digging a slight depression in the sand so that the whales could lie on their bellies and protect their organs as much as possible. Three of the whales had already died so that meant that the volunteers would need to look after the remaining 15 whales until a rescue plan could be established.
Pretty soon many volunteers started to arrive and the NSRI had a huge force in place to assist both on the beach and in vehicles. A procedure had been put in place after the last incident but as often happens the conditions for a rescue were very poor. A very big swell was running making it impossible to swim the whales out to sea and as Mike Meyer was away it took some time to put someone in an authoritative position.
A trailer that had already been prepared in advance for such events was brought through from fisheries department in Cape Town. Items in here included special cetacean stretchers, sheets and buckets. The stretchers would be used to move whales from the low water mark as well as to move the whales onto transport if required. It is very important to keep the whales cool whilst they are on the beach so large bed sheets were dampened and draped over the whales. Buckets where then used to collect sea water which was then poured continuously over the each whale.
Five healthy whales were identified for rescue and the remaining pod had to be humanely euthanized.
When pouring over the water we had to be very careful not to pour any down the blow hole, so someone needed to block this with their hands each time. For me this was a difficult part as it really brought home the reality that there was a live animal struggling for its survival. The success rate of saving beached whales is incredibly low but the plan that emerged on Sunday was to identify the strongest whales and transport them on flatbed trailers to Simons Town, where the Navy would transport them out into False Bay and they would hopefully be strong enough to swim out off Cape Point on their own.
Five healthy whales were identified for rescue and the remaining pod had to be humanely euthanized. The transportation was a huge operation but was achieved and all five whales arrived in Simonstown. A hoist was then used to lift the whales from the flatbed trailers onto two Navy tugboats. The whales were then taken out into False Bay for release. All five whales appeared to swim away strongly but sadly during the night three of these whales stranded again on Long Beach Simons Town. They were also euthanized as it was determined that they were in poor condition.
It is now Tuesday and there is no report of the two other whales that were safely released. I can only hope and assume that they would have made it to safe waters and will be strong enough to survive this ordeal. There is nothing nice about witnessing or being involved in a situation like this but we could never not put our hands up and try to do all that we can to help. There were so many other volunteers that stood up to the plate and the NSRI in particular put in a huge effort and vital contribution in aiding the rescue effort.
Although it was still chaotic on the beach I do feel that the experience from the last stranding did make things more organised. The whales were quickly stabilised and made as comfortable as possible. A plan was put in place and followed out. Hopefully two of the whales would have survived and the huge effort and man power that went into this will have made it significant for these animals.
Well done to everyone that was involved for a truly great effort.