Stranded pilot whale rescue a success!
At 7:45 am on Saturday, November 6th, the IFAW Marine Mammal Research and Rescue (MMRR) team received a report from the Wellfleet Police Department regarding a whale stranded in the surf on the ocean side of LeCount Hollow, Wellfleet, MA. I arrived on scene to confirm the report as a sub adult pilot whale rolling around in the heavy surf. With the help of some willing beach goers, we pulled the animal as high as possible onto the beach, knowing full well that with the strong incoming tide, the window for health assessment and potential relocation would be very small.
Once the pilot whale was stabilized and blood was drawn, another staff member, Jane arrived with the rescue trailer and helped provide additional supervision over the stranding situation. Logistically, we were facing the fact that if this animal was healthy enough to be released; we needed to somehow relocate the heavy animal up the 40ft dune face to the parking lot where the rescue trailer was waiting. Making use of the 15 bystanders now gathered around to observe the unfolding drama, we were able to slowly trudge up the dune path and into the rescue trailer (at a brisk pace of 3 feet at a time) with the animal in two stretchers linked together.
So now the 9ft, ½ ton animal was resting comfortably in the trailer, awaiting its fate. After consultation with our staff satellite tagging guru, Sarah, it was determined that this particular animal would be an ideal candidate for our new post-release monitoring tags, which include not only a satellite transmitter, but a dive data recorder as well. Also included in the monitoring package was VHF radio-tracking tag which transmits radio signals in order to locate the animal at sea and evaluate behavior once it is released. Another blood draw was performed and the pilot whale still appeared to be in adequate health for release. With Jane in the rescue trailer with the animal and me at the wheel, the transport to Provincetown was underway.
When we pulled into the release site, a team of trained IFAW volunteers had already arrived in order to assist with the beach release. Both tags were successfully attached to the trailing edge of the dorsal fin and now the animal was ready for release. Again, with stretchers linked together, the 13 member IFAW MMRR team (wearing drysuits due to the cold water temperatures) lifted the pilot whale and slowly made the trek from the parking lot to the waters edge. After receiving a pre-release briefing from staff, the team gradually waded into the water with the stretchered pilot whale. Once in waist deep water, on a count of three we released the pilot whale and observed him quickly swimming due west out into Cape Cod Bay.
Within approximately one hour of the release (4pm), we received confirmation via a satellite tag transmission that the animal was located four miles offshore of Provincetown in Cape Cod Bay. On Tuesday, November 9th, we received more satellite tag transmissions indicating that the pilot whale had swam back around the tip of Cape Cod and into the Atlantic Ocean, 36 miles east of Truro. We also received data from the dive recorder that the whale was performing consistent dives, some up to 200 meters. On Friday, November 12th, the tag data revealed that the pilot whale had made large swims offshore, northeast of Provincetown within Wilkinson Basin.
The entire stranding, rescue, relocation, and release process for this particular event proved to be an intense yet extremely rewarding experience and the resulting data from this tagged animal are monumental for better qualifying post-release survivorship.