A pilot whale was saved by about 100 volunteers in Nova Scotia after it became separated from its pod and washed up on a beach on New Year’s Day.
Andrew Reid from the Halifax-based Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) said local residents alerted the rescue group early on January 1 about the beached whale and sent pictures and a call for help on social media.
“It was a time critical incident,” Reid told VICE News over the phone on Tuesday.
Within two hours, MARS had arrived at Rainbow Haven Beach just outside of Halifax with flotation devices and a group of volunteers, he said.
Hikers, surfers, firefighters and other local residents joined the rescue effort after seeing the call for help on social media.
Past the beach sits a series of sandbars and shallow waters, Reid said. “It seems possible the animal swam into that area and couldn’t find its way out.”
The volunteers needed to move the whale back into deeper water quickly if it was going to survive. Normally, they would have tried to wait until high tide to guide it back to sea, Reid said. But the whale was stranded in the morning and the tide wasn’t going out until after 6pm. The whale could not have survived that long on the beach, he said. They had to move fast.
With a “huge” turnout of volunteers, MARS “directed people on how to get the animal into the flotation pontoon,” a yellow inflatable device.
Pilot whales can weigh up to 3000 kilograms, but once the animal was secured inside the pontoon “it was surprisingly easy to get the whale into the water,” Reid said.
“You have complete control over the animal when it’s in this equipment, it can’t really swim away,” he said. “It allows the animal to get its energy and balance back… it was quite aware and responsive to us being there.”
Pilot whales are social creatures that normally travel in pods, and it was unclear how this animal had been separated from its group, or whether it has been reunited with them following the rescue, Reid said.