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Heroic rescue saves whales trapped by floating ice off Sakhalin Island

By The Siberian Times reporter
20 April 2016

Three killer whales and baby 'knew we were trying to save them, and were not aggressive'.

Rescuers had been alerted by the haunting cries of the stranded animals, caught in the frozen sea close to the shore. Picture: EMERCOM on Sakhalin

The four whales were trapped close to Starodubsky village, caught between clogged ice and the shallow coastal waters. Rescuers used a small boat and a vehicle on shore to clear the sea to allow the mammals to swim in deeper waters.

Three including the baby reached the open sea fairly quickly, thanks to rescue efforts. A fourth - the largest - took much longer. Rescuers had been alerted by the haunting cries of the stranded animals, caught in the frozen sea close to the shore. 

These pictures show the valiant rescue operation. At one point, a rope was attached to a vehicle on shore and wrapped around a large block of ice, to tug the obstruction closer to shore. 

Rescue operation


Rescue operation


Rescue operation

Three including the baby reached the open sea fairly quickly, thanks to rescue efforts. A fourth - the largest - took much longer. Pictures: EMERCOM on Sakhalin

During the operation, the largest whale rolled on its side, its breathing hole underwater, unable to escape. Three rescuers plunged into the water trying to push the whale to deeper water, righting it so it could breathe. After several minutes, they succeeded. 

Sakhalin rescuer Dmitry Mikhailov said: 'We did everything for the salvation of this whale. For several hours we stayed in the water, pushing back the ice floats and  helping the whale to move. We helped it to move to a deeper place.'

Rescue operation


Rescue operation


Rescue operation

'We did everything for the salvation of this whale. For several hours we stayed in the water, pushing back the ice floats and  helping the whale to move. We helped it to move to a deeper place.' Pictures: EMERCOM on Sakhalin

He stressed: 'The whale did not show any aggression, whether from fatigue, or it really knew that we are saving it. While at work, we often come into contact with it, but it did not show any aggression.'

As the operation unfolded, he spoke of the rescuers' determination - finally rewarded - not to give up. 'As long as there is still an opportunity to help the animal, we will continue our work. To stop would be to waste the results we achieved during the day. 

'Now we are pushing and pulling the ice floes, and continue to water the upper part of the whale's  body and fins, which are above the water. The main thing that it was possible for the last hour - to  move the whale  to a depth of 1.80 metres. Here it will be much easier.'

Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night

'We turned the floats using everything we could - hooks, hands, feet, pulling with the rope, pushing with the boat.' Pictures: Dmitry Kovalev, member of the club Boomerang (Sakhalin Island), member of the Russian Geographical Society

The rescue operation lasted all night long. Despite their efforts, initially the larger whale could not escape. But early in the morning April 20 reports said the mammal had successful swum away to open sea.  

Rescuer Dmitry Mikhailov said: 'We were so surprised that people were so willing to help us.' He said 'our joy was indescribable' when the whale headed for the open sea. 

Local photographer Dmitry Kovalev, who helped as a volunteer, wrote: 'We all were happy as children. The rescuers and volunteers spent all the night in the water. The whale behaved properly, understanding and helping the rescuers.'

Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night

Specialist on marine animals of the company Sakhalin Energy Peter van der Wolf and a veterinarian from the village of Starodubskoye are going to make an injection of epinephrine to the whale. Pictures: Dmitry Kovalev, member of the club Boomerang (Sakhalin Island), member of the Russian Geographical Society

He was struck by the cry for help from the giant mammal. 'I still can hear the cry of the whale. This cry literally tears you apart,. You feel like it is your baby crying and you awkwardly try to help, and you are not good enough.

'We turned the ice blocks using everything we could - hooks, hands, feet, pulling with the rope, pushing with the boat. It was obvious that the whale was extremely exhausted, but even in this state it helped swimmers to move. 

Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night


Rescue operation at night

'Our joy had no limits. We shouted, cried and smiled at the same time. The whale proudly raised fin and headed for the open sea!' Pictures: Dmitry Kovalev, member of the club Boomerang (Sakhalin Island), member of the Russian Geographical Society

'They came to a standstill, then put a new route. Cold and fatigue did their dirty work, but we were not retreating, we sought to bring the killer whale to the open sea. Creaking teeth, we hit the ice floe, we pulled them away by hands.

'The path was open. But why the killer whale did not swim. Why? It turns out that it just 'heated the engine'. I do not know what the sound was like when he gathered himself and swam.

'Our joy had no limits. We shouted, cried and smiled at the same time. The whale proudly raised fin and headed for the open sea!'

Comments (5)

"Our joy was indescribable when the whale headed for the open sea."..........I think this, as well as everyone's wonderfully expressed comments and sentiments, says it all so well. I will just add one more very heart-felt Thank You!
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
21/04/2016 17:47
8
0
In a world where so many animals are victims of mans greed and cruelty, This restores ones faith in humanity. May God bless all those involved in the rescue and the beautiful creatures themselves.
Elaine Ross, Lucena del Puerto, Spain
21/04/2016 17:21
9
0
there are still people around who care and not only kill!
Benedikt, Moscow
21/04/2016 02:52
12
0
Well done Siberian rescuers!! You are the king (and queen..) to solve ice problems!! I have just seen this vidéo-story in the website of French newspaper "Le Monde"" . Whale baby crying is very impressive.
Jocelyne, FRANCE
20/04/2016 22:28
16
0
You are true heroes for putting yourselves at risk, and for braving frigid waters to rescue this family of Orcas. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Well done!
Arlene Erven, Canada
20/04/2016 21:25
20
0
1

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