British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2011-06-15 12:25:05

Redcar Sperm Whale

Stranded Sperm Whale (Photo: Samantha Lipman)On 31 May at quarter to 7 in the morning, just as I was handing over from nightshift to dayshift, I was called by Karen on the out of hours line reporting a stranded live whale at the end of Green Lane Redcar, just south of Middlesbrough. I think I may have sworn... (Sorry Karen).

I dashed home as Karen was sending out a group text for assistance. As I went I called ambulance control to see if they could contact Cleveland police direct to confirm this was definitely a whale. I got the reply that it was, and that officers were on scene with it. I then contacted Humber Coastguard control to see what CG units were there, Skinningrove and Redcar, and asked if they would be able to contact Fire Rescue for help keeping the animal wet.

I woke my wife Tori with a slightly frantic 'I need to get my gear, I've got a whale stranded' before I dashed back downstairs to collect my dry suit and whale kit. Not exactly the morning wake up she was expecting, as she would normally prefer a cup of tea at least! Rushing to fetch the pontoons and air tanks (I had no idea what type of whale it was at this point) I hit the road south for the hour plus drive to the scene.

As I made my way, I received updates from medics David and Wayne Wilson, that it was a large whale, probably sperm, and it was still alive but breathing quickly at 6 breaths per minute.

I arrived at 0900h, and was met with a 44ft leviathan sadly stranded on the beach, facing back out to sea, his tail resting against one of the beach groynes.

As I got my drysuit on, I was met with the OIC for Fire rescue, as well as RSPCA. I advised them that we would have to withdraw any first aid to the animal due to both its size and species, and change our role to information and PR to the throngs of public already there at this time. As we were planning, this, I was informed by medics with the animal that he had stopped breathing, and was not showing any signs of life. While we waited the hour to confirm that the animal was not breath holding, we prepared our sampling equipment, and liaised with Paul Jepson at ZSL as to what he would ideally require from it. K from the RSPCA went to a local vet for sample pots for blood, while Becky Ferry relinquished her sandwich boxes to store the wrapped samples once taken.

Working with local Police, Coastguard teams and Redcar and Cleveland council, we made sure the public were kept at a safe distance while we looked at methods of moving some 20+ tonnes of whale up the beach to try and keep it there for the ZSL team to PM when they arrived later that day, especially as the tide was now on the way in.

Heavy lifting equipment was sourced by the council, and as we waited for this, sampling was done on the animal.

As there was now a lot of public watching, I walked the perimeter explaining what the whale was, what might have happened, why we couldn't save it, and also why we were taking samples, as well as answering questions about it.

Obviously there was a growing press presence, and between myself, the RSPCA and Council, I think we probably spoke to every television channel and radio station possible, and quite a few newspapers.

At 1500h, I finally left the site with the whale making good progress up the beach, with Coastguard and Redcar Lifeboat keeping watch for safety. I had at this point been awake for 22 hours and was slowly realising that it was sunnier than I thought due to my reddening nose. Just before I left I called Julia in the office to update her with the situation, but had to cut her short as I chased a woman who was wandering down the promenade with a bag of whale blubber she had taken from a dog... What her plans for it were, I will never know... Although this was an exceptionally sad end to a magnificent animals life, we showed that we were able to manage this incident smoothly, working with all the other agencies present, and had this been a viable whale for re-floatation, it would have happened quickly and efficiently, and made me proud to be working with such a willing and able group of volunteers.

I'd like to thank, in no particular order; Redcar and Cleveland Council, RSPCA, Cleveland Fire rescue, Cleveland Police, Redcar and Skinningrove Coastguard teams, Redcar RNLI, Humber Coastguard Control Room, Medics David and Wayne Wilson, Paul Waugh, Jenni Taylor, Becky Ferry, Sam Lipman, Ryan Walker, Ops manager Steven Marsh for whale weights, Julia in the office for her support,  Karen Kirk for causing the big panic in the first place, and finally Tori, for putting up with me dashing off for the day and sacrificing one of our few days off together for BDMLR work (again!)

Richard Ilderton
Newcastle Region Coordinator