July 24, 2015 - 6:00 AM
HARTLEY BAY, B.C. - A killer whale stuck on a tiny island off British Columbia's coast was protected for eight hours by rescuers as they waited for the high tide to wash her off the rocks.
Hermann Meuter, who runs a whale research facility near Hartley Bay, said another researcher was watching whales hunting seals Wednesday and noticed that a female orca was stranded.
Meuter said the tide was receding when rescuers reached the whale and it was too dangerous to try to get her back into the water. Instead, they covered her with blankets and kept her cool and wet while waiting for higher water.
"She was crying a little bit, calling for her family, but she endured it," he said in an interview Thursday via satellite phone.
Meuter was initially alone as he poured water from a bucket over the whale, but he couldn't keep up when the sun came out and some of the dozens of people who had gathered to watch pitched in.
"It was very stressful for the whale. Having her whole body weight lying on the rocks, her lungs were most likely squeezed a little bit."
Meuter said it didn't take the whale long to realize they were helping and she calmed down after the first hour.
Cam Hill, a band councillor from the Hartley Bay First Nation, said he was teaching a class when word came about the stranded whale and his group decided to check out the "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
"The thing that really struck home with me was just how patient she was in waiting for that water to come up," said Hill, who watched the operation from the rocks above.
The whale waited until she was fully floating and then gently eased herself into a position where she could slip off the rocks and into the ocean, he said.
"Once she moved herself off into the ocean there was a triumphant yahoo from everybody involved. You could tell she was very happy to be gone — she just took off."
Hill said his students, ranging from 10 to 15 years old, were overjoyed at the outcome.
"It was mind-blowing."
Meuter has seen the whale and her transient pod before. The orca is known as T69E and is about 11 years old, he said.
She made it back to her waiting pod relatively unscathed.
"She had minor scratches on her tail from barnacles. There was a little bit of blood, but there were no major injuries."
It was nice to be able to get her back to her pod, Meuter said.
"As stressful as it was for the whale, the outcome, of course, was extremely exciting for us."
The whale was lucky that someone spotted her hung up in such a remote location and that help could arrive so quickly, he noted.
"If she would have been there for nine hours without water being poured onto her body, there would have been a lot of stress on her."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015