Thursday, January 12, 2012

30-hour effort to save killer whale

Volunteers carrying the stranded pygmy killer whale onto a speedboat before it was released into the sea yesterday. Pic by Edmund Samunting
THERE was no shortage of volunteers when a desperate request was made to help keep a stranded male pygmy killer whale  afloat and alive at a resort, here.
The killer whale  was guided and released into the sea at 5.10pm, yesterday, after it showed signs of activeness but not after nearly 30 hours of coaxing it to stay upright in the water with help from  40 volunteers.

The injured two-metre-long mammal was spotted by staff of  Shangri La's Tanjung Aru Resort here on Tuesday morning and was subsequently brought to an enclosed sea lagoon for its safety.

As experts from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wildlife Department discussed  their next course of action, the dolphin appeared to struggle to stay afloat and upright, prompting a few people to jump in and help hold the mammal in chest-deep water.

According to experts, the mammal,  nicknamed Tony by the volunteers, was not a juvenile but neither had it reached adult size.

As word got around of the need to keep the dolphin afloat, divers, guests at the resort and others  offered their help. A 30-minute shift was organised for the volunteers to take turns in the water.

Volunteer John Tibok  Jr, 22, who came out of the water with wrinkled skin, said he was proud to be part of the group to help the rare dolphin stay alive.

"I started my shift about 5pm and there were three to four volunteers in each group," said Tibok, who took turns with other volunteers in braving  a chilly night with intermittent rain.

"The water level got higher at night during high tide and we had to use life jackets to stay afloat. We had to hold on to the ailing dolphin because it kept sinking and flipping."

He added that the dolphin appeared weak but was able to eat as volunteers fed it  fish.

A dolphin specialist, Dr Lindsay Porter, from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of St Andrew University, Scotland, said there must be something wrong for dolphins to come ashore.  Experts believe that Tony was sick and got separated from its group, which normally numbers between 50 and 100, before it got washed ashore.

"Based on observation, the dolphin is showing signs of activeness. Although it has not fully recovered, it seems to want to swim freely.

"When dolphins are active, it is best to put them in their natural environment and that is the deep sea. From there we will continue to observe its condition," said Lindsay, who did research on sea mammals with WWF.

Because there has been little research on the rare  species, their behaviour is relatively unknown and Tony's condition remains unclear. It may not even survive the deep sea on its own.

"Externally, there is nothing to be worried about although there are scars on its body. Internally, we are not very sure," added Lindsay.

The pygmy killer whale is a small, rarely seen cetacean of the oceanic dolphin family and derives its common name from sharing some physical characteristics with the killer whale.  

There have been several sightings of stranded dolphins in Tanjung Aru beach in previous years where two dolphins were spotted last year.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said there was very little that could be done to treat the dolphin.

"After a long rest and signs of improvement, we felt it was best to release it to the wild. We thank Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and all the volunteers for their support and assistance." - NST

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