Alaska boaters encountered a peculiar sight Thursday: A 20-foot-long killer whale was on the shore, stuck in a rock crevice.
Someone on a boat had spotted the killer whale off Prince of Wales Island off the coast of British Columbia, Julie Fair, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an email.
The first call to the US Coast Guard came around 9 a.m. about the whale, which was stranded on the rugged coastline at least 1 meter above the tide line.
Photo taken by Tara Neilson’s niece, Aroon, who posted it on her Twitter account.
Soon Chance Strickland, captain of a private yacht in Alaska, and his crew anchored and reached shore to spray to the whale with sea water.
The mist kept the whale cool and chased away the birds that had gathered nearby in the trees, waiting for a chance to eat the killer whale alive.
Strickland and his team hoped that when the tide rose that afternoon, the 13-year-old whale would float back into the sea.
Strickland could hear the killer whale calling to the killer whales that swam in the area.
“I don’t talk much about whales, but they didn’t seem very lively,” he said.
People from other boats stopped with water and buckets to wet the killer whale.
Strickland and his crew backed away from the whale in case it began to spin, he said.
“There were tears coming out of his eyes,” he said.
“I was pretty sad.”
Strickland left the island after wildlife officials came to relieve him and his crew, he said.
The tide finally rose around 2 p.m. local time, NOAA said, and the sea water finally rose high enough that the whale, known as T146D, float again.
“It moved a little slowly at first, and it meandered a bit before swimming away,” Fair said.
It was a happy ending for the whale, which returned to the sea about six hours after being seen on shore.
Canadian authorities confirmed that the killer whale was a Bigg’s killer whale from the “transient west coast” population.
The stranding occurred just one day after a powerful earthquake of 8.2 magnitude shook the coast of southwest Alaska.
However, the earthquake, which was the country’s largest in 50 years, did not cause the whale to be stranded, NOAA said.
Toa, an orphan calf, suffered a different fate than the T146D after it hit the New Zealand coast this month.
Although conservationists fed the whale in a makeshift pool and volunteers spent days scouring the shoreline to find the family de Toa, the orca ended up dying.
In one of the largest whale stranding cases ever recorded worldwide, Australian rescuers last year saved 108 of the 470 whales that landed on a wide, remote sandbar in Tasmania’s rugged Macquarie Harbor.
Live whale strandings are rare but do happen from time to time, experts say.
Five whales, including T146D, have been recorded stranded off the west coast in the past two decades, according to Jared Towers, a researcher with the government Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Bay Cetology, an orca research organization. .
“These whales were hunting seals or sea lions and they just made a mistake and basically got stuck and then the tide went out,” he said.
All but one of the whales survived the strandings, he said.
While a beached killer whale is on shore, it is in danger of overheating, being crushed by gravity or be attacked by birds or bears.
Towers said it was difficult to say how long the whale would have survived had the tide not risen.
He said he had heard of a whale that survived after waiting 11 hours for the waters to rise.
Since the T146D was still a juvenile, its body was small enough not to be crushed by gravity, he said, adding that it survived the stranding with just cuts and superficial abrasions.
He said the whale could have been waiting for the tide to rise after getting stuck on the rocks.
However, the tide went out, so the orca was separated for a few hours from other whales in the area.
“It is quite likely that he is reunited with them now, and that he is leading a normal life after spending time out of the water,” he said.
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