KOTA KINABALU: The pygmy killer whale which was found stranded on Tanjung Aru beach on Tuesday morning was yesterday released back to the wild.
A group of onlookers cheered when the Sabah Wildlife Department, with the assistance of Dr Lindsay Porter from St. Andrew’s University’s Sea Mammal Research Unit, Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa Kota Kinabalu, WWF-Malaysia, Borneo Dream and L.E.A.P (Land, Empowerment, Animal, People), successfully guided the whale onto a stretcher and lifted it to a speedboat to be returned to the sea.
The mammal, which has been named Tony, was discovered by a security personnel of Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa Kota Kinabalu at 7am on Tuesday.
The whale was moved to the resort’s enclosed sea lagoon to protect it from boats and fishermen till it could be freed.
Around 30 to 40 volunteers, comprising divers, surfers, students, hotel guests, staff from WWF-Malaysia and and L.E.A.P., took turns for 15 to 20 minutes each throughout the night to try to feed the mammal and keep it afloat under the supervision of the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Porter, when met yesterday, said the pygmy killer whale probably originated from Sabah waters or adjacent waters.
However, little is known about this species, which belongs to the dolphin family, she said.
“It has been identified from the east coast and Semporna, but we know little about the biology of the animal,” Porter said.
She said the species usually travels in a group of 50 to 100, and the reason the pygmy killer whale got stranded on the beach is unknown.
She believed there could be infections or illnesses that were not visible from its exterior.
Meanwhile, WWF-Malaysia marine conservation chief Ken Kassem said, “We try to make it feel comfortable, regain its energy so that we can release it and give it a fighting chance to survive.
“The pygmy killer whale, around two metres in length, is not juvenile but has not reached its adult size either.
“It is hoped that the 30-plus hours rest enabled the whale to recuperate and return to its natural habitat.
“The cause of the whale’s stranding is unknown and there is a possibility that it may not survive this ordeal.”
Sabah Wildlife Department director Laurentius Ambu said there was very little that could be done to treat marine animals.
“After a long rest and signs of improvement we felt it was best to release it to the wild.
“We thank Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa and all the volunteers for their support and assistance,” he said.
Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa general manager Andrew Steele, who was among the volunteers who swam out to the sea to aid in the release, commended the spirit of care, humanity and community shown by volunteers in effort to save the pygmy killer whale.
“We often forgot about caring and humanity, caring about the environment till something like this happened, which bring us back to a more caring society,” he said.