Thursday, 22 December 2011

Whale family escapes after being trapped in N.L. channel

A family of pilot whales that was likely to perish in a narrow channel in Bonavista Bay, N.L., has made it out.

The six whales were at the end of a long run near Deer Island, on the northeastern coast of the province.

"They won't swim out once they go up these narrow entrances - pilot whales are really social, really sensitive to sound, and they hang together in groups and won't go anywhere if they all don't go," said Wayne Ledwell of Whale Release and Strandings, a non-profit organization that responds to whales that are entrapped or stranded on the shoreline.

The organization had been called in by a group of bird hunters who had spotted the whales on Monday.

"I knew they weren't going to get out of there if we weren't successful in getting them out, because it's going to freeze over."

If the whales had been sick and looking to beach, there may not have been anything he could do, Ledwell explained. But they weren't. It was a group of seemingly healthy animals - juveniles and adults - that Ledwell reckons had found their way into the channel by chasing herring or after being scared by killer whales, which had been spotted in the area last week.

Ledwell, along with fisheries officer Darren Poole, used a boat to chase the whales out. It's not the best way to deal with whales, Ledwell explained, but it was the only option.

It took about four hours to get the whales to leave.

"When they'd come up to the tickle, they'd turn around and go back. They didn't want to go through the narrow areas," he explained. "We had to keep after them. It was like rounding up cattle, except we couldn't see them most of the time. They'd turn around on us and go underneath.

"We kept at it, kept cutting them off, going behind them and cutting them off again, and we finally got them out. Once they were in the middle of the last tickle, it was open sea, and they were gone; they bolted it for the open ocean as fast as they could go."

Ledwell doesn't expect the whales to come back to the spot.

"If this was an animal that was found on a beach and we had pulled it back out again, or a single animal in this species, I would think they would come back, and most of the time they do," he explained. "In this case, they were healthy-looking, they weren't on a beach and didn't want to go on a beach, they were swimming around in the cove."

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