Zhejiang University: ZJU professor helps return a beached whale

A male sperm whale was rescued on the shores of Xiangshan county in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, after being beached during low tide for over 20 hours on April 19. Prof. DI Yanan of Ocean College in Zhejiang University participated in the rescue and sent the whale back to surf together with other experts and rescuers.

The stranded whale was first noticed in the early morning by a fisherman who called the local authorities to save the great mammal out of the plight. On receiving the emergency call for assistance, professors of ZJU’s Ocean College and Ocean Academy soon discussed the rescue plan and assigned Prof. DI Yanan who specializes in the marine biology, to save the whale on the spot.

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales as well as the largest toothed predator, usually rare in shallow sea areas like Xiangshan. Once beached, it would readily be endangered for inadequate oxygen and buoyancy. Even worse, the stranded sperm whale, measuring 19 meters and weighing over 70 tons, plus far in the middle of the beach, failed to be saved by the large machines. Stuck into the dilemma, the whale was temporarily kept moist with the rescuers pouring water to meet its basic needs. Under this circumstance, the next rising tide was the only chance to return it back to surf.

Upon knowing the situation, Prof. Di immediately set aside her work, drove to the scene and engaged into the discussion of rescue plan with local experts. Given the problem, they considered several possible consequences and fully evaluated solutions, eventually coming up with a plan to slowly drag the whale into the surf and escort it to the safe area by the buoyancy from the rising tide, which required close observation of the whale’s breathing and posture, careful avoidance of further damage, and necessary prevention of the whale’s possible resistance after recovery. Prof. Di, together with the other experts and rescuers, analyzed the real-time situation and adjusted the plan throughout the whole process.

After the 21-hour efforts, at 5 am on April 20, when the sperm whale finally began to swim and dive autonomously in a smooth respiratory rate, the rescue was declared success with a sign of relief. In the afternoon, the local authorities expressed sincere gratitude for Prof. Di’s assistance and dedication.

“This successful rescue owes to the efficient coordination of the local authorities, the professional guidance of the experts and the strong awareness of animal-protection of the locals. It not only provides precious experience to tackle similar emergencies, but also poses challenges for us researchers, for example, to study the reasons of whale’s stranding and, to further explore more scientific solutions,” summarized Prof. DI in retrospection.