Saving the Whales: In the Philippines, a Quick Response

© Jessie de los Reyes

Several years ago, CI conducted a seminar on marine mammal and sea turtle rescue training in the Philippines’ Verde Island Passage. When a beached whale was found in the region this past December, Jessie de los Reyes, a graduate of the seminar, helped mobilize the community’s response. Corina Bernabe, the communications coordinator for CI-Philippines, recounts the experience.

Village patrolman Hernan Reyes was conducting a routine patrol along the shores of Nasugbu, in the Philippines’ Batangas province, when he met with an unusual sight: a 29-foot whale stranded in the shallow waters. It was 3 AM. A series of phone calls followed the discovery, and by daybreak, officials from various agencies had started arriving at the area, constituting a hastily-formed local response team.

The whale appeared calm and was breathing regularly, but would move or thrash its tail when people got too close or too noisy. The animal was found to have about 16 wounds on its body; the municipal veterinarian was called in to administer to the wounds, which were later assessed by experts to be inflicted by bites from the cookie-cutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis).

The incident naturally attracted a lot of attention in the village, with the local school even deciding to release its students early so they could witness the rare spectacle.

Some of the onlookers were later tapped to assist in releasing the whale, which was done after the veterinarian had administered antibiotics to the wounded animal. About two dozen men worked together to lift the whale (assisted by a rope sling) and guide it to deeper waters. The whale immediately swam out of the cove as soon as it was able to float, and a boat followed it to ensure that it safely reached open water.

© Jessie de los Reyes

Through the videos and photographs taken at the scene, experts were later able to identify the species as a Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broodus”), Balaenoptera edeni. In the Philippines, historical records indicate that the Bryde’s whale was subjected to hunting in the past. There is little information available on the current distribution of the species in the country, and live strandings such as what happened in Nasugbu are uncommon.

Cetaceans such as whales are key ecological indicators. High up on the marine food chain, declining numbers of cetaceans such as whales can cause imbalances in the marine ecosystem, consequently affecting fisheries and those that depend on them.

The successful release of the Bryde’s whale in Nasugbu was in large part due to the dedication and cooperation shown by the local community. It also shows an appreciation of the importance of creatures such as whales in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. That unforgettable morning in Nasugbu, the entire community was united in one thought: saving the whale was everybody’s priority.

Read more about this unusual event.


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