LATEST UPDATE (30 October, 11:15am): The whales can no longer be seen in the loch. So the assumption is that they have now left the area.
Joint BDMLR and Scottish SPCA news release
The Scottish SPCA and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have launched a joint rescue operation in a bid to save 24 whales in danger of becoming stranded off the coast of South Uist. The local coastguard contacted the animal welfare experts for help after receiving reported sightings of a large pod of pilot whales near the shores of Loch Carnan on Wednesday evening (27 October). Members of the public had seen the animals close to shore from 9.00am that morning.
A large scale rescue operation between the Scottish SPCA, BDMLR, Stornoway Coastguard and local volunteers was initiated at first light on Thursday (28 October). Two teams of volunteers, including ten medics from BDMLR and three inspectors from the Scottish SPCA (two of whom have also been trained by BDMLR) are travelling from the mainland to the site, taking three vehicles, two rescue trailers and four sets of rescue pontoons. The Scottish SPCA's auxiliary inspector based on the island is currently monitoring the whales and organising local volunteers to assist in the operation.
The rescuers have also enlisted the help of Project Jonah, the New Zealand based marine mammal rescue organisation who have expertise and experience in mass whale strandings and will be providing advice over the phone.
Scottish SPCA Senior Inspector Andy Brown said, "Reported sighting suggest that the pod was circling and displaying laboured breathing yesterday, all signs that they may be in distress and in need of our help. We won't know the full extent of the situation until we are able to locate and assess the pod. However, we have quickly assembled an excellent team of people who will be working tirelessly together to get the best result we can for these magnificent creatures."
Ali Jack, BDMLR Scottish National Organiser who is leading the response team said, "The pod has been reported this morning as being lined up about 150 metres off shore, thankfully not having stranded overnight. However, their proximity to the coast and behaviour suggests that there is a strong potential for a stranding, so our combined team will be on hand to monitor the situation, assess potential stranding sites and move into action if necessary."
Close to mid-day today (Thursday) when the whales were in danger of heading towards the head of the loch, local fish farmers took their boats and having formed a "U" shape behind them, slowly guided back out past the pier where they are safe just now from stranding. The fish farmers then stood down, and have left the whales in peace, where they are now ‘milling’ in a tight group.
For further information contact:
BDMLR Operations Manager
British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Notes to editors