Pilot whale successfully refloated at Inch, Co Kerry

29th Apr 2006 A pilot whale, live stranded on Inch strand Co Kerry, was successfully refloated this afternoon after a huge collective effort.

First observed on the beach at 8:30 by early walkers on the beach, the IWDG were contacted at 10:15. "I was listening to Derek Mooney on Mooney Goes Wild, talking about the blue tits nesting in a box in his garden, when I got a call from Mick O'Connell" said IWDG Co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow. Mick is the IWDG local contact in Co Kerry but was in Dublin for the weekend. Mick was told that Kevin Flannery, of the Department of Marine and Director of Mara Beo, was on the beach with the whale and might need help. "I phoned Kevin and asked if he needed any assistance, he said he did and we were soon on the Shannon ferry crossing from West Clare to Kerry with the full IWDG live stranding kit, including the whale pontoon".

When we arrived we were greeted by a very well organised and busy beach. Local NPWS Conservation ranger Paschal Dower and Kevin Flannery had, together with a large number of willing helpers, dug a pool and put blankets and towels over the whale to keep it cool and were pouring water over it. The water was being ferried up from the distant sea in a bulk carrier on the back of a trailer. Despite the large number of people, estimated to be over 200, the atmosphere was calm but busy.

Locals, holidaymakers and tourists were all there. Anthony, an Australian who came down the beach to do a bit of birdwatching that morning, was told there was a huge "fish" on the beach. "If that's a fish then I'm a Kiwi" said Anthony and stayed the whole time to help and eventualy watch the whale swim out to sea.

huge collective effort to refloat the whaleWhile the IWDG pontoon was being transported to Inch strand, local vet Brendan O'Connor had visited the whale and could find no evidence of disease, infection or lesions and as it seemed in good nutritive state was thought to be heathly. Pilot whales usually occur offshore and are good candidates for refloating if stranded on a gently sloping sandy beach such as those found in Dingle bay. Thus this whale was deemed suitable to attempt to refloat.

We decided than rather than wait for 3 or 4 hours for the tide to reach the whale we would attempt to move it down the beach and into the sea. We rolled the tarpulin from the pontoon under the whale and secured it around the whales tailstock like a sling. We put another sling the under tarpulin under the whales head to keep it up. A rope was secured onto the front of the tarpulin and secured to the towbar of a landrover. Together with around 20 people we managed to slowly pull the tarpulin with the whale on it, down the beach.

"It worked remarkably well" said Simon Berrow "within two slow but controlled pulls we had the whale in the incoming tide". The pontoons were then attached and filled with compressed air and the whale slowly pulled into the water. The pontoons hold the whales weight and give it a chance to re-orientate itself. "Its breathing rate decreased showing it was becoming less stressed and circulation returned to its flippers". After around 20 minutes the whale was becoming more active and started gently raising and lowering its tail fluke. "We let some air out of the pontoons to enable the whale to support itself. After a further five minutes the whale began to slowly swin off the half deflated pontoon and out to sea. It appeared to be able to surface to breath without tilting to one side and hopefully will continue swimming out to sea rather than turn around and re-strand".

Pontoons removed and whale still accompanied by swimmers in background

A short w