Low tide halts efforts to save British Columbia orca as rescuers plan next steps

The Canadian Press

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2024 7:01 pmEDT

Last updated Saturday March 30, 2024 11:52 pmEDT

ZEBALLOS, BC – Low tide kept rescuers trying to save an orphaned whale calf stranded near a remote British Columbia community out of the waters on Saturday, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada said officials are re-evaluating the techniques they have been used so far while they decide what’s next. .

An email from department spokesperson Leri Davies said the most promising tool used so far to remove the young animal from a lagoon off Vancouver Island appears to be metal Oikomi tubes from a line of boats being used as a “wall of sound”.

The long metal tubes are partially submerged in the water and struck with hammers to create noise and direct the whale toward a narrow exit point, across a shallow sandbar and back into the open ocean.

“The reality is that it is a very complex operation, in a dynamic and dangerous natural environment, in which you work with limited deadlines to carry out a rescue and have to deal with changing conditions of wind, rain and tides,” Davies said.

“That said, the baby whale appears to be in good condition and the whale’s health is being monitored.”

Rescuers have said the whale almost left the lagoon but was reluctant to go over the sandbar where its mother became stranded and died last week.

Other methods that have been used so far include recorded whale calls, specialized directional guide lines, and indigenous drum beating.

The mother of the two-year-old calf died in the lagoon last weekend while neighbors were trying to free her. A necropsy on 15-year-old Bigg’s orca showed that she was pregnant with a female fetus when she died.

Davies said the scientists were surprised by the way the calf responded to the sounds of the whales’ calls.

“In the past, playing sounds underwater has been very effective as an attractant in removing whales from a potentially dangerous situation. For this baby whale… they were repellent,” the email says.

“Once this was observed, efforts were made to use the sounds from the capsule to try to maneuver the baby whale towards the sand bar and the open ocean, unfortunately without success.”

Davies said the pipes are widely used to deter marine mammals from oil spills.

The remoteness of where the calf is trapped, on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island near the small community of Zeballos, has presented its own set of challenges.

“The lagoon where the baby whale is trapped is even more remote and inaccessible,” he said.

“To help mitigate this, the local road contractor stepped up to make their large equipment available to the operation, and the Ehattesaht First Nation and the local community have established a makeshift boat ramp to facilitate access to the lagoon. from the water.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2024.

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