Friday, February 25, 2011

A Whale of a Story

Wednesday, a whale beached on the west end of Galveston Island. It is strange to me that whales come so close to Galveston. I've heard stories from fellow scuba divers that you can easily see whales if you go to the Flower Gardens about 100 miles off the coast of Galveston. I guess it's one of those, you gotta see it you believe it things.

A friend of mine from college (pictured above rescuing the whale) currently volunteers with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network here on the island. Whenever there is a beached animal, she takes off work to go help out. When this got called in, she was one of the first on the scene. She had to hold the animal out of the water for an hour and a half before the truck arrived with the appropriate transport materials. Whales have to stay wet, or else their skin dries up. Also, it is hard for the animal to breathe out of water because they don't have the buoyancy in the water to help support their weight anymore. That is why it had to stay in the water until the transport arrived.

When they originally approached the animal, they believed it to be a baby sperm whale. They were hoping to find the mother off the coast so they could reunite her with the baby. They were worried it would be a difficult task because of all the fog we've had recently, and particularly that day.

After bringing the whale back to the holding tank at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, they realized it was an adult pygmy sperm whale. No one has ever successfully kept one of these in captivity and 90% of beached pygmy sperm whales do not survive. Generally, if a whale has beached, it is because there is something wrong with it already. At the end of the day, they decided to euthanize the animal.

Lauren said she was exhaused after a day of dealing with the 1000-pound whale. She said this was only the second time she has encountered a beached whale on the island in her 6 years volunteering with the network. They most frequently get dolphins that they rehabilitate, then either release it or give to a facility that can house the animal (think Sea World). More often, the stories end happily. This just wasn't one of those cases.

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