Dolphin rescues beached whales

Article from: Agence France-Presse

By David Brooks in Wellington

March 12, 2008 02:53pm

A DOLPHIN guided two stranded whales to safety after human attempts to keep the animals off a beach failed, a conservation official has said.

"I've never heard of anything like this before, it was amazing," New Zealand Conservation Department officer Malcolm Smith said.

The actions of the dolphin, known for playing with people in the water at Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island, probably meant the difference between life and death for the whales, Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith had been working for over an hour and a half to save the two pygmy sperm whales which had repeatedly become stranded despite his attempts to push them back out to sea.

A dolphin, named Moko by locals, appeared and guided the whales to safety after apparently communicating with them, Mr Smith said.

The whales, a three-metre female and her 1-1/2 metre male calf, were apparently confused by a sandbar just off the beach and could not find their way back to open water.

Mr Smith had been alerted at daybreak by a neighbour about the two stranded whales.

"Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore," Mr Smith said.

"I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was reaching the stage where I was thinking it's about time to give up here, I've done as much as I can."

In that situation, whales are often humanely killed to end their suffering.

Mr Smith said Moko arrived on the scene and he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another.
 
"The whales made contact with the dolphin and she basically escorted them about 200 metres parallel with the beach to the edge of the sandbar," he said.
 
"Then she did a right-angle turn through quite a narrow channel and escorted them out to sea and we haven't seen those whales since.

"What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety."


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