Sad end to baby whale’s first visit to Orient Beach

RESCUE EFFORTS: Kevin Cole from EL Museum and Elton Jacobs, Orient Complex supervisor, move the whale’s head from the rocky outcrop when it was first spotted. Pictures: THEO JEPTHA and TAMMY FRAY

Orient beach was a scene of emotional highs and lows on July 14, as marine experts, civilians and lifeguards attempted to save a stranded neonate humpback whale who unfortunately had to be euthanised on the rocks not far from Wimpy later that day.

The whale, under four weeks old and weighing two tonnes, was first spotted at 10am and after extensive and ground-breaking attempts to save it that lasted over five hours, the decision was made to humanely euthanise.

Siani Tinley from East London Aquarium said euthanisation spares the whale drawn out suffering and a painful death owing to organ failure and compression of the lungs. Its remains were collected for scientific testing on July 15 and these samples have been sent to Bayworld. The rest of the carcass was disposed of at sea.

In the wake of this, BCMM closed Orient Beach for public swimming to avoid potential shark attacks until July 21.

By the time the whale was discovered, it was underweight and this was interpreted as a sign of prolonged distress.

EL Museum principal scientist Kevin Cole said a number of inconclusive variables may have contributed towards the stranding however no internal injury was identified.

He added:  “The baby humpback did look undernourished and this may be related to an illness or having been separated for a reasonable length of time from the mother.

“Separation can happen if large predators are around, and great white sharks are in our waters at the moment.”

With its umbilical cord still attached, it did not have the necessary navigational skills and was reliant on its mother for guidance.

With assistance from EL Museum, BCMM Orient lifeguards and NSRI, the whale was refloated at 12pm at which John Barry from Southern Cross Cruises, along with his team and members of the public onboard the cruise, attempted to herd the whale back out to open water which lasted for two hours and proved unsuccessful at the end.

Barry placed the boat in between the shore and the whale and members of the public onboard including children and parents acted as a lookouts.

A microphone was released into the water to locate other whales and potentially the mother. Calls of adult whales were heard not far away but the baby was too disorientated to follow the sounds.

At 2pm, Barry was forced to turn back to the harbour and shortly thereafter the calf fatally stranded again.

Tinley said in the 18 years during which she  has worked at the museum, this is the first time they have been able to provide extensive measures to enable the rescue of a stranded whale.

Moira Meyer was one of the passengers on board Southern Cross Cruises and said: “This was an emotional experience because one lives with a constant sense of hopelessness, but being a part of this rescue filled me so much hope that we would be able to reunite this baby with its mother.

“Any mother can recognise that maternal instinct and we can only imagine the pain the mother must be experiencing.”

Tinley said: “Each stranding allows you to learn a little more about what can and can’t be done and adds to a bigger store of collective knowledge you rely on when you have to respond to another stranding.”

Cole said: “The humpback whale initially had the energy to survive, had no physical injures, was on a sandy beach for the most part and was a manageable size to attempt a rescue as we did using the wide strap around the body.

“Sadly the outcome was not what we worked for.”


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