Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Got 1 min? Locals help rangers rescue 21 stranded pilot whales in Celestún

Local residents and national park personnel on Tuesday rescued 21 short-finned pilot whales that had become stranded near a beach in the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, in western Yucatán state.

Park rangers noticed the imperiled animals,  took video of them and immediately sent it to Picmmy, a local marine mammal conservation group. A nearby Navy oceanography station was also notified.

The rangers waded out into chest-high waters to prevent the marine mammals from endangering themselves in shallow water. Local residents also joined in the rescue effort, forming an extended line in front of the beach.

Once the Picmmy team arrived, they examined the short-finned pilot whales, discovering that two had suffered injuries, including one that was likely the result of an attack by an orca, or killer whale. After the evaluation was completed, the rescuers used boats to guide the pilot whales out to sea. Navy personnel joined in the efforts to shepherd the mammals to deeper waters. 

“The participation of the public was critical in carrying out this rescue,” Raúl Díaz Gamboa, the Picmmy coordinator in charge of the operation, told La Jornada Maya newspaper. “They started without us, with the help of Celestún reserve personnel […] We decided to use all hands despite the risk of someone being struck or bitten, but we explained how to push the mammals and the importance of coordinating so that they could all be moved at the same time.” 

Díaz, who is also director of the Marine Biology Department at the Autonomous University of Yucatán (UADY), said park personnel and members of the public have in the past received training to carry out this important maneuver, including on how to properly push and redirect the mammals and how to work in coordinated fashion to maintain a secure line of protection.

Pilot whales often stick together when one of a pod is injured, and experts say the behavior demonstrated in Yucatán is not uncommon. (NOAA/Wikimedia)

The number of pilot whales involved in the incident was not unusual, Díaz said, as pods typically stay together when one of their number is injured.

The rescue operation lasted most of the day. Picmmy was alerted at 10 a.m. and the animals finally reached open waters after 8 p.m. Navy personnel and park rangers remained in the area to make sure the pilot whales did not return.

Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are cetaceans belonging to the oceanic dolphin family — which includes orcas — and are not actually whales. They are known as “cheetahs of the deep” for their ability to dive at high speed to hundreds of meters in search of prey. 

With reports from Quadratin Yucatán, La Jornada Maya and Diario de Yucatán

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