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Monday, August 8, 2011

Race to save baby whale beached at Australian surf mecca amid fears it won't live without mother's milk

By Frank Thorne and Daily Mail Reporter

Time is running out for a massive baby humpback whale which took a wrong turn at an Australian beach - and lost his mother.

The not-so-little lost boy, who weighs 1.5 tons and is thought to be just a week old, was discovered in the early hours of this morning, spurring a 10-hour rescue operation.

After a joint effort by rescue workers from Sea World, National Parks and Wildlife and the Gold Coast City Council life guards he was eventually pulled back into the water, only to become ensnared in a shark net just off shore.

Stranded: A beached week-old humpback whale calf lies on a beach in Surfers Paradise, Australia, as rescuers attempt to drag it back to the surf

Rescuers had to spend a further half an hour cutting the youngster free, and the calf swam off unharmed but will be tracked in the hope he can reunite with his mother.

There is a risk he could beach again if the family are not reunited soon.

Sea World’s director of marine sciences, Trevor Long, said it was critical the calf was reunited with his mother or he would not survive for long alone without his mother's milk.

Speaking to the Australian Associated Press, Mr Long added: 'It's not over yet. The whale has been lying on one pectoral fin all night.

'He's very sore and not moving it much at all.'

Rescue efforts: Rescue workers pour buckets of water over the beached calf as onlookers watch in the early hours of Monday morning

Heavy work: Rescue workers had to call in heavy excavating equipment to dig a channel back to the water's edge

The marathon rescue operation began after the calf was discovered stranded on the beach, which is popular with surfers, at about 1am Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Using excavation equipment, rescuers dug a channel in the sand to the water's edge and a rope, attached to the calf by harness, was tied to a SeaWorld boat.

The boat and rescuers then dragged the 1,500kg juvenile, who had been kept wet with buckets of water, into the incoming tide as thousands of concerned beachgoers looked on.

Life savers: The calf was pulled along the channel by ropes connected to a harness and dragged by a Sea World boat

Nearly there: The humpback calf is helped back into the water by rescuers from the Sea World and the Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife

Mr Long, who directed the rescue, said that rescuers' main aim was to get the beached calf back in to the water where he could call for his mother.

He said the baby was alert and in good condition, despite his ordeal, but added that rescuers were concerned the mother, who had not been spotted despite a search, was no longer nearby.

Without his mother's milk, the already-tired calf could survive for up to five days, but would become progressively weaker and could return to the beach in confusion.

Back off dry land: The calf flicks his tail fin as he returns to the water. He was promptly caught in a shark net

'You can't keep pushing it out, the animal's going to suffer and suffer, so the only decision then is that we probably have to euthanase it,' he said.

'These animals need to be with their mother, they're almost velcroed to their mother side-by-side, and it's a wonderful, wonderful bonding relationship.'

Researchers are screening blood samples from the calf for diseases to look for clues as to why his mother abandoned him.

Photographs taken on the beach will be compared to pictures of a mother and new calf seen swimming off the Gold Coast yesterday to determine if it is the same baby.



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