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


2011-09-08 22:09:14

BDMLR rescues young Fin Whale in the Humber

Latest update: Sadly, at 14.40 today September 8th, British Divers Marine Life Rescue received a report from the coastguard that a whale has been seen upside down on a sandbank off Cleethorpes. It has now been confirmed that the body is floating in the incoming tide and that the animal is indeed dead. The body is being recovered for post mortem, but it is thought that it is the same animal that stranded on Tuesday.

Young Fin Whale in the Humber (Photo: Rick Byrne)BDMLR received a call from Humber coastguard at around 8am on Tuesday 6th September about a stranded whale at Immingham Dock on the Humber. The whale, originally thought to be an adult minke whale and measuring 27ft, had around two-thirds of its body submerged in deep mud. Later, once better photos and footage of the whale were available once freed from the mud, it became apparent that it was a young fin whale and not an adult minke. Reports of a second, larger whale further out in the estuary still have not been confirmed.

Calls went out to BDMLR medics in the region who attended what was going to be a long and potentially dangerous rescue. Because of the danger, the Humber Fire Brigade limited the people out on the mud to their own personnel, Humber Coastguard MCA, the attending vet from Swanbridge vets and BDMLR's Yorkshire Coordinator, Rocky Clark, who led the rescue. The RNLI and Humber Rescue were also on hand as safety boats.

By the development of the baleen, it was judged that the young animal probably had been weaned, or was going through weaning and therefore was a good candidate for a refloat. Lying on its side, time was at a premium as the tide was rising, limiting the window of opportunity as it was in danger of drowning as the water reached its blowhole.

Rescuers dug a deep channel alongside the whale so that as the tide rose, it would be able to be rolled into an upright position and help in the refloat.

As often happens, many of the techniques used at the scene were thought up on the spot, with input both from the rescuers on the mud and further support on shore from other BDMLR medics, the RSPCA and Associated British Ports.

One of these involved using fire hoses around the rostrum and behind pectoral fins to try and pivot the whale so that it was pointing out to deeper water, but only when it lifted its tail to reduce the pressure on its body. A rescue boat was also used, not to frighten the whale (as reported elsewhere) but to create a wave to help lift the animal as the suction created by the mud was holding it down.

Young Fin Whale rescue (Photo: Courtesy of BBC)This suction also meant that the BDMLR inflatable pontoon system used on other rescues could not be deployed as it would have been too dangerous to have rescuers, who were already waist deep in the mud, working under the whale. Also, the young fin whale was much wider than the system's mat.

After a number of manoeuvres to point the whale in the right direction and to get more water under it as the tide rose, it eventually broke free from the mud at around 3pm and moved out into the deeper channel out of view. Rescuers were then stood down, but a team from the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme took over the vigil and stayed in touch with the Coastguard and BDMLR. Vessel Traffic Services alerted all shipping in the Humber that there was a whale, possibly two, in the vicinity.

Yesterday morning, at 9am on September 7th, the coastguard passed on a report of the whale further east towards Grimsby and around 5pm in the evening, the whale was seen to breach in the vicinity of the original stranding. There have been no further reports of sightings up to noon today (September 8th) or of the possible second whale.

BDMLR are concerned that this young whale is still in the Humber estuary and are hoping that it will return to the open sea soon, where it will be in less danger of stranding. As a pelagic (deep sea) dweller, fin whales are not as aware of the effects of the rise and fall of the tides. There is also concern that the North Sea, not being the natural habitat of fin whales, cannot provide the right diet for these bulk feeders.

BDMLR would like to thank their volunteer medics and the agencies named above for their support and ingenuity during this rescue. The combined team worked incredibly hard under difficult and dangerous circumstances to free this young whale from the mud, and it is hoped that their efforts will be rewarded by reports of the animal being seen out in open water soon.

» Footage of the rescue (but slightly incorrect reporting!)

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager

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