The past few years have seen an increase in mass whale stranding with New Zealand having the highest rates in the world. Stranding whether of an individual animal or mass stranding can be as a result of old age, sickness, injury, navigational error or social bonding.
Most of the stranding happen in remote and unpopulated areas and go unreported. However, there are many success stories involving rescue of stranded whales. These rescue interventions represent a lot of a serious risk to both the animal and the public.
Here are some safety tips to consider when rescuing stranded whales:
1. Inspect the stranded animal from a safe distance to establish whether it is in distress, pain or discomfort. It is important to keep people and dog at a safe distance to avoid stressing the animal further.
2. Call an expert for help. Many countries have wildlife officers who are trained on how to handle stranding emergencies who work closely with qualified veterinary officers. People such as the local marine mammal stranding network or wildlife staff or the police would be able to help
3. When reporting the stranded animal, be sure to inform the officer of any distress and describe what it would be. Inform them of any injuries, strange physical activities or sounds. Remember to give the exact physical location to make it easier for the rescue team to locate you.
4. Maintain a safe distance from the animal. The animal may seem helpless but it is still a wild animal which may harm you instinctively to protect itself. A whale is a powerful animal which can cause serious injury to people should they roll in the water. In addition, the stressed animal may thrash its tail putting you at risk of getting injured.
5. Avoid any form of contact with the animal as whales may carry many zoonotic diseases. But, some reason if you touch the whale for, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly.
6. It is important not to attempt to push the whale back to the water without adequate assistance. This might result to re-stranding which might lead to severe stress, injury, and death.
7. For the safety of the animal, make sure that the blow hole at the top of its head through which the whale breaths is not blocked or underwater. With adequate assistance, you may gently roll the whale, which might be lying on its side, onto their belly to make sure that the blowhole is facing upwards.
8. It is advisable to constantly pour buckets of water onto the whale skin all the while keeping clear of the blowhole. This helps to keep their skin wet and cool as plans are being made to return the stranded animal to the water.
9. If you have access to water-soaked burlap bags you can cover the whale’s skin to protect the skin form drying and shield it from sunburn. Be careful not to cover the blowhole and fins.
10. Stay with the whale until the rescue team arrives. They might need information about what happened at the scene before their arrival.
The purpose of aiding stranded whales is to get it back into the water. You should follow the instructions of the experts, who have the necessary training to care for such animals. In some cases it may be possible to push the whale back in the water but you must be careful not to harm the animal.