Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blue Moon

Warning: This post is a little sad, but I left out most of the specifics of the day for the squeamish. 

Once in a blue moon whales beach themselves for inexplicable reasons. Far less frequently do girls from Missouri get to help assist in the rescue process. Today during a delicious brunch at Captain's Galley, some friends and I found out about a pod of beached pilot whales nearby. Thank goodness for friends in the know. We hopped in the new (still-unnamed) car and went to go see if we could help.

There were so many people and so many whales! It was a little chaotic and we weren't sure of what to do so we grabbed some buckets and began filling them with water. In total, there were 22 whales and each had a team of about four or five people attending to them. At least one person sat up against the whale to keep it propped up and the rest worked to keep it cool. I ran into a friend who volunteers at Harbor Branch and joined their team. 

We worked with a young female whom they had named Margot. I've never seen a whale outside of an aquarium and here I was sitting next to one pouring water from a water bottle over her dorsal fin. The vets came around and instructed us to keep track of her breathing and over the next couple of hours that's all we could do. Margot's breathing became more labored and other whales were dying around us. At some point they sedated her. She began to shake and lift her tail and I felt entirely helpless.

There was a lot going on, people coming and going, but I was lucky they let me stay. It had become quite crowded and the park rangers were trying to control the crowd, the media, and all the volunteers. Eventually, the vets came around and began to euthanize the whales one by one. It was really hard watching them get closer and closer to Margot as they worked their way down the beach. It was even worse when they actually got to our tent. The vets and volunteers were incredible, though. Humane and understanding - they explained everything they were about to do as if she was "our" whale. She kind of was. And even more so to Sarah, Colleen, and Anna from Harbor Branch.

The actual procedure was the hardest part and I'm not going to describe it. Just know that the term "putting to sleep" isn't quite accurate. After that, I couldn't stay around anymore. Sadly, 17 whales died today, but thankfully five were rescued and will hopefully survive. 

Here are a few pictures from today.

Each tent is covering a whale or two.
The farthest south on the beach. They were spread all along.
There are two of the babies in this pool someone brought. They were saved!
Margot (and Sarah)
Another whale came ashore as we were working. Thankfully they were able to save it as well.

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