June 19, 2010

Fin Whale Sets Itself Free After Becoming Stranded

Rescuers and experts were astonished after a young whale stranded for three days on the edge of a Danish fjord suddenly began swimming again Friday.

"It's fantastic, a miracle," witness Lisbeth Blumenkranz told AFP after the fin whale started moving. "I saw it at around 6:20 pm (1720 GMT) breathing, moving and swimming. Everyone thought it was dying, but it's alive."

Thousands of people flocked to see the distressed whale at the Vejle fjord in western Denmark as rescuers made repeated attempts since Wednesday morning to help it return to the water at high tide.

Police spokesman Joergen Jacobsen confirmed that the whale had regained its strength and started moving again.

According to environmental charity WWF, fin whales are the second largest living animal after the blue whale.  They are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Jacobsen said the 15 meter whale was swimming "towards the back of the fjord and not towards the high sea, and firemen will try in the evening to point it towards the channel to rejoin the school (of whales)."

Rescuers said they decided to allow the whale to "die naturally and in peace" and firefighters were spraying it with water to protect it from the sun in what were assumed to be its last moments.

The whale became stranded at low tide on Wednesday on a bank several meters long, and became exhausted after struggling to free itself.

Henrik Lykke Soerensen, operations coordinator at the Danish Forest and Nature agency, part of the environment ministry, told AFP that experts who saw the whale earlier Friday said it was ill and that there was "almost no chance" of it surviving.

"We do not have experience in putting down such large sea mammals and even if one tried it could take hours without any guarantee of success according to the experts," added Soerensen.

Tyge Jensen, a whale expert, said he believed that the whale was "ill and out of instinct left the school (of whales) in order to die alone."

The Nordic spokesman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) contrasted Danish people's response to the whale's plight to Denmark's policy of whaling.

"Everyone wants to save the whale of the Vejle fjord but no-one can. Everyone can save the thousands of whales brutally killed each year but no-one wants to," Morten Rasmussen told AFP.

He added that Denmark was set to back whaling nations at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission being held in Morocco from Monday.

According to the WWF, fin whales are streamlined in appearance with a distinct ridge along the back behind the dorsal fin.

It added that their typical life span is around 85 to 90 years and the total population in North Atlantic probably exceeds 46,000.

The phenomenon of whale stranding and the causes remain the subject of scientific debate.