The Whale Tale by Alice Forrest
After over 36 long hours stranded on Queensland’s Palm Beach, a juvenile humpback was rescued on Thursday morning and is now swimming free.
Alongside ORRCA volunteers the rescuers spent many exhausting hours working to get her to freedom. Teams from Seaworld alongside ORRCA volunteers battled against waves, tides, sandbars, breaking ropes and the immensity of moving an 8 metre long, two tonne whale.
So far it looks like the whale is swimming happily at sea and the incident was a cause for celebration, as people saved an incredible animal that otherwise would not have made it. However it has raised a lot of questions about Australia’s management of cetacean rescue situations, with a lot of debate about the best way to handle them. Each hour that a huge animal like that is stranded on land puts a huge amount of pressure on its body. Over 24 hours into this stranding, a group of onlookers took the situation into their own hands and entered the water. Could the rescue have been done sooner or in a way that put less stress on the animal? Is Seaworld the best group to be responsible for rescue efforts? The captive marine mammal industry is a huge topic best left for another article, however it is easy to see why conservationists are calling for an independent marine mammal rescue group.
Sea World believe that the actions of ‘rogue activists’ hampered the rescue effort, potentially putting the baby whale in danger. On the other hand, the activists who entered the water believe that Seaworld were blundering rescue attempts and should have been able to get the whale out to sea much faster. From their point of view, this whale had been sitting on the beach for days, with the Seaworld rescue team appearing to be utilising the media attention rather than doing everything possible for the whale. It’s worth noting that beached whales are often euthanized rather than returned to sea, for a variety of reasons. So the tenacity of the Seaworld team is to be praised and their role in this rescue should not be underestimated.
Should the role of dedicated marine mammal rescue organisations like ORRCA be elevated to provide them with more responsibility in these situations?” – Could the rescue have been done sooner or in a way that put less stress on the animal? Should the role of dedicated marine mammal rescue organisations like ORRCA be elevated to provide them with more responsibility in these situations? Is Seaworld the best group to be responsible for rescue efforts? The captive marine mammal industry is a huge topic best left for another article, however it is easy to see why conservationists are calling for an independent marine mammal rescue group.
Maybe it’s time to open up for suggestions, what can we learn from this to take into future rescue scenarios?
We have come a long way in our relationship with whales – not so many years ago whaling was common practice worldwide. Whales are still being hunted by Japan, Norway and Iceland and still face a huge range of other threats, including pollution, by-catch, plastic, shipping, unsustainable fishing and the oil & gas industry. However we now understand a lot more about their intelligence and marvel at their beauty, and the humpback whale population is one of the great success stories of marine conservation. It’s fantastic to see groups fighting so hard for this individual whale, but it’s important to keep in mind that everyday decisions like eating a can of tuna, buying international products and taking our shopping home in plastic bags can also impact on whales.
Hopefully the organisations involved learned valuable lessons for future rescue attempts, and it would also be awesome if people took their passion for this whale and applied it to their own lives and how they may be impacting our oceans.
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