Nine of the 12 melon-headed whales stranded on the coast in East China have been rescued through the joint efforts of local officers, rescuers and residents racing against time, as millions of netizens witnessed the process in a live video broadcast.
By Wednesday night China time, eight of the rescued whales have been returned to the ocean, and the last one, in poor health, continued to receive observation and full treatment. The bodies of another three dead whales were placed in frozen storage and will be used for research.
Initially, observers thought the whales were dolphins. But on closer inspection, they turned out to be pilot whales.
The whales were found stranded in a mudflat hundreds of meters from the shore in Linhai, Taizhou city, East China’s Zhejiang Province by local residents, who reported this to authorities at around 8 am Tuesday.
Local public security, fire, fishery and other departments and nearby enthusiastic fishermen quickly launched a rescue operation.
The rescue was extremely difficult due to the recent hot weather and the location, which was far from the shore, rescuers said. “The whales are about 2 meters long and very heavy, so it is difficult to move them.”
The entire process of rescuing the whales was broadcast live by the media, with millions of people watching as rescuers went down to the sea and then held the whales in place, pouring water on them.
After rescuers worked together to get the whales onto stretchers and move them to a dug-out puddle, another wave of rescuers continued to spray them with water and used wet towels to prevent the water from evaporating. The rescue brigade also brought in ice to cool the whales down.
“Seeing the police and the public come together to quickly complete the rescue for such large animals is really moving,” a Taizhou resident with the last name Wang told the Global Times.
Although whale strandings occur frequently along the coast, it is relatively rare for 12 to be stranded at one time, Sun Quanhui, a scientist from the World Animal Protection organization, told the Global Times.
The cause of the stranding of the whales is unclear.
“Common causes include predation into unfamiliar waters, changes in seawater tides, neurological diseases, and malfunctioning navigation systems. It is generally believed that artificial sonar and diseases are the primary causes of disruption to cetacean navigational capabilities,” Sun noted.
Sun pointed out that wild whales will find it difficult to adapt to captivity and should be released back into the sea as soon as possible after treatment of their injuries and illnesses, which was also the strategy of the rescue team on site.
Sun also expressed concern toward the whales’ overall status.
“The success rate of rescuing stranded cetaceans is often not high. Some sick or injured individuals may die during the rescue process, and some individual animals sometimes strand again even after returning to deep water.”
Earlier this week, another rare whale was spotted in the waters around Dapeng Bay in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province.
The Bryde’s Whale, listed as a first-class national protected animal, was spotted on June 29 and has been staying in the area since then, according to the general office of Dapeng New District in Shenzhen.
Local officials established a special work team to protect the animal and called for boats to pass by without watching, which gained a lot of praise from netizens.
These successive appearances of whales in China’s waters may indicate a change in the survival environment of cetaceans, experts noted.
“The Bryde’s Whale has been staying for many days in Shenzhen waters and its obvious foraging behavior has been observed, indicating that the food resources in the waters are relatively abundant and the marine environment may be more suitable for the survival of marine mammals such as Bryde’s Whales,” Sun told the Global Times.
Due to overfishing, offshore pollution and busy shipping lanes, the survival of some cetaceans active in China’s offshore waters used to be greatly affected, and many species were included in the recently updated National List of Key Protected Wildlife.
In addition to rescuing stranded whales in a timely manner, marine ecological protection should be enhanced comprehensively, Sun suggested, including increasing the number of marine protected areas and strictly implementing the policy of a marine fishing moratorium.
China’s fishery authority began to carry out fishing moratoriums for Chinese fishermen on some part of high seas to conserve squid resources starting from July 1. From July 1 to September 30, the moratorium will be carried out in parts of the high seas of the southwest Atlantic Ocean outside the exclusive economic zones of relevant countries. From September 1 to November 30, the moratorium will be rolled out in parts of the high seas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
Main photo: Chinese Embassy/Twitter