A day at the beach turned into a rescue mission for members of the public who rallied to save a young false killer washed ashore on a beach at Casuarina in northern New South Wales early on Sunday.
- False killer whales rarely beach by themselves
- Beachgoers fetched water to keep the whale cool for more than three hours
- Sea World took the whale to its aquarium on the Gold Coast for rehabilitation
Beachgoers raised the alarm with authorities at about 7am and attempted to re-float the young whale three times, but it stranded itself again further north on Salt Beach at Kingscliff.
By around 9am bystanders had thrown up a tarp over the distressed female and begun working with volunteers from the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) and surf lifesavers to keep her cool and moist.
What followed was a three-and-a-half hour effort to keep the 1.7 metre mammal alive while rescuers looked for the rest of her pod off shore.
Surf lifesavers took a boat out while a Sea World chopper searched from above, but the pod could not be found.
False killer whales are found in waters around Australia and generally travel in pods of up to 20 whales. Females grow as long as up to 4.5 metres, while calves are generally half that length.
The stranded juvenile was likely to have just finished weaning, a Sea World spokesperson said. False killer whales are typically weaned around 18 to 24 months.
The bucket squad
Surf lifesaver and local councillor James Owen was on patrol when he heard about the rescue mission and began helping the group of about 20 people who were trying to save the whale.
“People were marching up and down the beach with buckets of water and pouring them over the whale as it lay there,” Mr Owen said.
Wayne Phillips, the Head of Marine Sciences at Sea World, also answered calls for help and joined rescuers on the beach with a veterinarian and a marine rehabilitation officer.
He said the mammal survived thanks to the efforts of the volunteers and community groups.
“There were lots and lots of different people that were helping us out throughout the day. The Australian group ORRCA, Dolphin Research Australia, the surf lifesavers were amazing,” Mr Phillips said.
“The Tweed-Byron local Aboriginal Land Council were also there as well as the police and the water police.”
Mr Phillips said it was “unusual” to see a juvenile false killer whale wash up by itself.
“We suspected that it was a Risso’s dolphin and then we thought it might have been a melon-headed dolphin which are quite common stranders, but we were quite surprised when we arrived and found that it was a juvenile false killer whale,” he said.
“They’re more of an offshore species — so a Pelagic species — so we don’t see them often this close to shore,” he said.
He said Sea World was looking into the effects of the recent floods on the whole marine ecosystem, including marine mammals like the false killer whale.
After failing to find her pod, Mr Phillips and his team transported the whale to Sea World around midday. They plan to rehabilitate the whale so it can join a new pod.
“The only tricky part is to try and find an appropriate pod for her to join and we’ll have to consider that as we move forward,” he said.
“We’d like to think that it would be a positive outcome if we can find a pod of the species.”
Jools Farrell, vice president of ORRCA, said the volunteer organisation had responded to five other whale strandings on the NSW coast in the past month – not all were false killer whales — but they all died.
“We are on alert at the moment in regards to whales stranding because it is unusual to have five strand in a matter of weeks,” Ms Farrell said.
Ms Farrell advised beachgoers against attempting to re-float beached whales.
“We understand that people are passionate and want to try and help, but that’s the worst thing you can do,” she said.
“Especially by grabbing it by the tail and dragging it down the beach on the sand you could break its back, break its tail.”
“Their skin is like tissue paper, so it’s like running it over rocks…and you’re doing more harm than good.”
“The best thing to do is call ORRCA on our rescue line number — (02) 9415 3333 — which is manned 24/7 by our volunteers.”