Subject: Info: Australia Whale Stranding

Michael Williamson (whe_william)
Mon, 10 May 1995 14:27:08

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Date: Wed, 10 May 1995 14:11:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Info: Australia Whale Stranding
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AUSTRALIA - East Coast
Manning River, New South Wales - August 16, 1994
A whale was the highlight of the Taree area by remaining in the Manning river
for over 3 months. Many stories abound about why Willy, nicknamed after the
movie "Free Willy", swam up the Manning river. The one most favoured is that
Willy was a part of a group of dolphins playing near a sand-bar across the
mouth of the Manning river. The dolphins crossed the sand-bar with Willy in
close pursuit on the evening of the 16th of August. While the sand-bar posed
no threat to the dolphins, because of their smaller size, they eventually
swam back to open sea but Willy was hesitant to navigate his way back alone.
The trip across may have frightened him a little or being now alone may have
confused him. Either way Willy swam upstream.
Eyewitnesses reported that in spectacular fashion Willy did a belly-flop onto
the sand bar blocking the Harrington mouth of the Manning River. Much to the
amazement of the observers who could see him clearly from their houses built
on an old pilot's station, high above this place where river meets the sea,
Willy wriggled his 10 tonne body off the sand and swam a cracking pace up the
river. Belated wildlife experts able only to follow in hot pursuit.
More than a week passed before Willy's species was narrowed down to either a
Minke or a Tropical whale. During this time he was content to inhabit a small
stretch of river about 1Km from Taree. Researchers and Parks Officials began
monitoring Willy and by the 2nd of September they were beginning to ponder
about how to get him back to the ocean.
By September the 7th the 10 tonne whale, now confirmed to be a tropical
whale, was staying put. Several attempts to lure Willy back to the sea by
playing whale "songs" and erecting a series of markers had failed. Willy
himself, had already attempted an escape several days earlier during a lunar
high tide but was found stuck on a sand-bar in one and a half metres of
water, just one kilometre from the sea. He finally freed himself only to swim
the wrong way 17 kilometres back upstream.
The so called rescuers next plan was to create a "wall of sound". 20 motor
boats were summoned to create a line of vessels about 500 metres from Willy.
Their motors to be used to create noise to see if Willy would move away.
Willy went along with the plan, apparently without stress, despite the din
the motors made. But just short of the river mouth, Willy doubled back,
ducking quickly and silently under the boats and back up river. And so it
went on.
Willy outwitted nets in November. But, in what would be a world first Sea
World marine experts planned to place Willy on a specially built stretcher
which would be towed from the river by boat. This 15,000 dollar setup
incorporated two inflatable tubes separated by a mesh matting. Similar
systems had been used successfully to rescue small whales in New Zealand but
an operation of this size would be a first.
At 6am on Thursday, November 24th, the rescue team swung into action when
Willy became stranded on the sand bank near the mouth of the river. The day
was to be a preparation day for the next day's planned rescue but Willy had
changed all that. The operation now was a matter of urgency with Willy
progressively showing signs of debilitation from the lack of his normal food.
By the time the rescue team arrived Willy was exhausted from trying to
release himself from the sand bank. He was now relaxed enough for marine
mammal experts to take blood samples which would provide further valuable
research information on the whale.
Willy, the 10 tonne whale was then successfully guided into the inflatable
whale harness and towed out, through the sand bar, by Sea World's hard-hulled
inflatable rescue boat, Sea World 2. Willy was finally released from the
harness 2 kilometres out to sea, where he swam free and into deeper water.
The morning's operation also marked the success of Sea World's revolutionary
inflatable whale harness, which was developed for use in the Manning River
operation. The 11 metre long harness, made up of two 1.4 metre diameter
pontoons connected by a mesh cradle, has become an integral part of Sea
World's specialised whale rescue equipment. With a 30 tonne capacity, the
harness will be used in future rescue operations with large Humpback whales
as well as strandings.
In another development, results from chromosome tests on skin samples
confirmed that the whale, nicknamed Willy, really was a male.
Graham_Clarke  -  "WHALES IN DANGER" Information Service
Sydney  - AUSTRALIA -
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