Rare Miniature Whales Rescued in La Paz
The AICMMARH team examining the adult female.
Cruisers take time to rescue this unique creature in the Sea of Cortez – A Dwarf Sperm Whale mother and baby.
La Paz welcomed some unusual tourists last week. Like many they were headed up the coast and stopped in longer than they had expected to.
But though this mother and baby were breathing the same air as us, they shared the habitat of sharks and they were swimming for their lives. The beautiful Ensenada de La Paz was not, for them, a sunny paradise of sand dunes and gentle rippling waves… it was a sentence to death.
These very special visitors were dwarf sperm whales, a rarely-spotted species that looks exactly like a whale, but is the size of a dolphin. At 7’6” in length, the mother was a typical adult, and her daughter – just 4’ – was probably less than a month old. To the huge population of bottle-nosed dolphins that live in the bay, no doubt they seemed like strange creatures from another planet.
First on the scene were the captains of four sailboats anchored nearby, across the channel from the malecón. One with wetsuit already donned ready for the likely long battle ahead (he’d obviously done this before!), all four hugged and stroked the animals while coaxing them away from the shore towards freedom and safety.
Mom was not impressed though. Just what she had been running from to end up here was unclear, but now she had only one thing on her mind. She knew she had to head North, and if the El Magote peninsula was in the way… well she was just going to keep pressing against the shore-line until the land gave way and let her through.
Each time the team coaxed them out to deep water, the adult turned and headed back for the beach, and baby dutifully followed. Although the beach was mainly sandy, there were enough rocks to cause large gashes in her side as she thrashed herself hopelessly against it, again and again. It seemed as if she was intent on ending her life right then, on that spot (and in turn, that of her baby too, who was still breast-feeding).
It was soon clear to the four sailors that this was a case for specialists, and following a radio call to Marina de La Paz help came swiftly: from the Mexican Navy and Profepa (the environment agency), and from a team of volunteers that go by the name of AICMMARH.
Sounding more like a mission statement than a name, AICMMARH stands for “Association for the Investigation and Conservation of Marine Mammals in their Habitat” – and that’s exactly what they do.
Led by Rocío Marcín Medina, the team calmly measured and identified the animals, and whistled tones in what one can only assume was ‘whale language’. Whatever it was, it clearly did the trick and both Mom and Daughter were immediately calmer than they had been during the entire previous struggle.
Wet towels were set around them to cool them down and restrain them without force, whilst the government teams prepared for the difficult task of transporting them to open sea, and freedom. Seconds after the two were safely aboard Profepa’s powerful panga they were hydroplaning to the destination. Speed was crucial if these tiny whales were to survive the trip without drying out.
And survive they did, Mom immediately setting their heading North as she seemed to have been wanting the whole time, except that now she had the whole of the clear blue Sea of Cortez to swim into.
Dwarf whales are seldom spotted at sea because they don’t go in for flamboyant leaps from the surface – unlike their huge cousins, the regular sperm whales, or the amazingly acrobatic dolphins. Nor do they survive long in captivity. So when they are seen, it’s mainly in a situation like this, beached and in distress. And they don’t usually live to escape.
The whole team of rescuers couldn’t help but be touched by the experience, and the happy ending. In the words of Pitt, one of the first to the rescue: “We’re here in the Sea of Cortez because of the closeness to nature… and man it doesn’t get much better than this.”
Photo Credit: s/v Karma Seas.