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Beached whale back at sea after rescue

By YANG WANLI in Beijing and MA ZHENHUAN in Ningbo, Zhejiang| China Daily| Updated: April 22, 2022 L M S


The rescue team cut the hauling cable and set the whale free in deep waters on April 20, 2022. [Photo/Chinanews.com]

A 19-meter sperm whale has been rescued from the shores of Xiangshan county in Ningbo, Zhejiang province on Wednesday, after becoming beached during low tide.

The stranded whale was first noticed by fishermen who put in calls to local authorities to draw their attention to the plight of the great mammal.

A 200-person rescue team was assembled consisting of staff from the Ningbo Yuren Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Center, public security department and fishery law enforcement.

"Rescuing a stranded whale is definitely the most impressive experience of my career," said Wang Liangliang, a staff member from the Ningbo Yuren rescue center.

"We sent pictures of it to aquatic animal experts who later identified it as a male sperm whale, a species that is rarely seen in shallow sea areas like Xiangshan," Wang said.

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and the world's largest toothed predator. It is the only living member of the genus Physeter and one of three extant species in the sperm whale family, along with the pygmy sperm whale and dwarf sperm whale.

In order to facilitate the whale's rescue, the team needed to keep it alive until high tide by ensuring it was covered with water and its blowhole was not obstructed.

At high tide, the whale, which weighed multiple tons, was connected by rope to several boats where it was gently pulled back into the sea.

By midnight, the whale was at a depth offshore of nine meters.

The safe water depth for whales of this size should be deeper than 20 meters, according to Wang.

The rescue operation ended at 5:49 am on Wednesday after 21 hours.

"Watching such a giant mammal breathe smoothly and safely, disappearing into the sea made me feel so proud of my work," Wang said.

In a group interview with local media, Zhao Shenglong, an aquatic wildlife expert from Zhejiang Ocean University, said the coastal areas in Zhejiang province have had whale strandings several times in recent years.

In July, nine of the 12 melon-headed whales stranded on Zhejiang's coast were rescued.