Fisheries and Oceans purchases new gear to save beached whales


WATCH: Crews were out in Nanaimo today testing out new equipment that will improve the chances of rescuing beached orcas on our shores. It’s already in use in more than a dozen countries around the world and today’s test went well. Kendall Hanson was there.

A team of Fisheries and Oceans employees arrived at Departure Bay Beach to help save a stranded whale.

But it was not a real animal. It was dummy they’re using to help them get used to new equipment.

“We’ve got equipment that we’ve purchased through the Ocean Protection Plan to make us more successful across the coast if we get a midsize cetacean stranding such as a killer whale size,” said Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Rescue Coordinator.

Cetacean strandings happen about five to 10 times a year in B.C.

Until now, waiting for high tide has been the only option, as in 2015 when volunteers kept a young orca cool for seven hours until it could swim away.

But with this new gear, in use in more than a dozen countries, the plastic slides under the whale, the pontoons on each side are inflated with air and there are grips for 14 people to help carry the animal back to water.

“In so many cases, we’ve been in situations where we’ve had to ad hoc, make tarps work or make different things work where it could’ve maybe run much smoother if we’d had the appropriate tools and training,” said Kirsty Walde, one of Fisheries and Oceans employees who received the training today. “So this is a big win for marine mammals in B.C. for sure.”

The dummy whale is filled with water giving it a pretty realistic look and weight, and a number of people show up thinking there’s an actual rescue going on.

“I thought they were rescuing a whale or something,” said Peter Palkovsky, a Nanaimo resident. “So we had to stop and check it out. Parked illegally and ran on down here.”

Fisheries and Oceans has already bought four sets in the past year and will be purchasing three more.

They will be strategically placed along B.C.’s coast to provide the fastest possible response.

“We’ll likely have a set in Nanaimo,” said Cottrell. “Also Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast, Tofino, Port Hardy and then, of course, we’ll have one on the south coast between Victoria and Vancouver.”

While this was just a practice run, staff involved in the exercise say they’re confident the gear will provide a big lift next time they’re called on for real.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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