Australia: Sunburnt whale rescued

4th Oct 2002 Story:

A severe case of sunburn added to the woes of a pygmy right whale stranded in Mortimer Bay near South Arm yesterday.

The 4m female was sent on her way by rescuers late yesterday afternoon but the immediate future of the sun-scarred young leviathan will not be known until a check today reveals if she has returned to shallow water.

The whale was discovered by Sydney sea kayaking enthusiast Terry Goss who was enjoying a leisurely paddle in Mortimer Bay.

His discovery led to a full-scale whale rescue operation involving the retrieval of the half-tonne mammal on a specially-designed pontoon and a trailer transfer to deeper water off the South Arm launching ramp.

Mr Goss, a keen whale watcher who admits to boring friends and family with stories of his experiences with southern right whales in Sydney Harbour in July, was impressed with yesterday's slick rescue.

The Nature Conservation Branch rescuers were similarly complimentary about Mr Goss' eagle eye.

Wildlife ranger Mike Greenwood said it was lucky the whale had been found. She would not have had a chance with the outgoing tide.

Mr Goss said it was sheer coincidence that he had found the whale. He initially dismissed it as a tree branch.

Then he noticed it was fin-shaped.

"I approached it tentatively because I was not sure what it was attached to," he said.

"Then I saw the tail and recognised it as a whale.

"It was breathing calmly and did not seemed stressed but I realised the water was shallow _ only about thigh-deep."

He paddled ashore and rang 000 on his mobile phone. Within 45 minutes the rescue crew had arrived.

Mr Greenwood said he could only guess why the whale had swum into such shallow water.

An autopsy of a pygmy right whale of the same age stranded in similar circumstances last November revealed it had poor body condition after being weaned.

"This could be a similar case _ of not coping alone _ but it's only a guess," he said.

"But what's unusual about this case is the unusual effect of the sunburn.

"The blisters had burst and caused the skin to split.

"It looked as if someone had used a scalpel."

Before she was released, the whale was injected with antibiotics and "jumbo juice", a concoction of vitamins and glucose.

Mr Greenwood was hopeful she would survive. "She was able to support herself and could have swum off at any time," he said.

"By transferring her to deeper water at South Arm we were able to give her the motivation to start swimming."

The Nature Conservation Branch will check beaches in the South Arm area at first light today to ensure the whale has not become stranded again.

The whale hotline to report sightings is on 6233 6556.

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