WATCH | PE couple’s efforts to save stranded whale end in heartache
A Port Elizabeth couple spent hours trying to save a small whale after it washed ashore on a beach at Oyster Bay on Sunday — only to have it wash up again several hours later.
A dramatic rescue effort by the National Sea Rescues Institute (NSRI), Bayworld and Port Elizabeth couple Stuart and Eva Laubscher ended when a decision was taken to euthanise the animal following several failed attempts to float it back out to sea.
The Laubschers stumbled upon the juvenile dwarf sperm whale on the beach shortly before 1pm while on a relaxing drive around Oyster Bay, near St Francis Bay.
“We went for a day drive and took the scenic route,” Stuart said.
“While driving in Oyster Bay I spotted something in the shallows of the beach near the water’s edge [about 1km away].
“We could see it splashing and I originally thought it was a shark.
“I took a picture with my cellphone and then zoomed [in].
“It looked like a dolphin lying on its side,” Stuart said.
“My wife ran down to look while I stayed at the car trying to get reception and call for help.
“After getting hold of the NSRI, I then went down to the beach.
“As I got over the dune I saw her in the water.
“She was fully clothed and trying to use the momentum of the waves to push it out to sea.”
Stuart said the windy, cold weather meant they were alone on the beach.
“The poor whale was stranded and we tried everything to get it back out to sea,” he said.
“We managed to get it out to sea the first time and then it washed back.
“We then pushed it further out to sea and it washed ashore again.
“Nothing seemed to work, we tried everything.”
He said after a few failed attempts to save the animal the NSRI arrived.
“It is a very humbling experience trying to save such a beautiful animal.
“We tried our best and are very sad at the outcome.
“My wife is completely devastated.
“I was shocked by her passion, energy and work capacity to just persevere,” he said.
NSRI Oyster Bay station commander Lodewyk van Rensburg said they placed the whale on a backboard and transported it to deep waters off Oyster Bay, where it was released.
“The whale appeared to swim away once it was released and, as a precaution, NSRI monitored the coastline,” he said.
Hours later the whale beached again at Eastern Rocks, off Oyster Bay Beach.
Bayworld marine biologist and stranding network co-ordinator Dr Greg Hofmeyr said he was alerted and gave guidance to the NSRI over the phone while driving from Port Elizabeth.
“Based on the size of the whale I can confirm it was a juvenile, but the exact age is unknown,” he said.
“All efforts to save the whale were made but it became evident that the animal was suffering and would not survive.
“This was confirmed when the animal came ashore the second time.”
Hofmeyr said protocols were for a marine mammal biologist to have a vet assist, but due to the isolated location it was difficult to get someone there.
“Based on experience, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries authorised that the animal be euthanised.
“This was the only humane option left.”
This whale measured 1.8m while the full-grown size of this species is about 2.5m.
Hofmeyr took the carcass back to Bayworld where it would undergo a postmortem.
“We will do an autopsy and have taken samples for testing.
“We will try to ascertain the reason for the animal stranding, but sometimes there are no answers for this occurrence,” he said.
“What we have noticed is that when one animal strands like this there is a higher possibility of more animals stranding later.”
In January 2019, Hofmeyr also dealt with 15 common dolphins that beached themselves and died at Woody Cape on the outskirts of the Bay.
Hofmeyr said that anyone who came across a similar situation could contact the stranding hotline for advice.
The 24-hours marine mammal stranding hotline can be reached on 071-724-2122.
A dramatic rescue effort by the National Sea Rescues Institute (NSRI), Bayworld and a Port Elizabeth couple ended when a decision was taken to euthanise the animal following several failed attempts to float it back to sea.