Rescuers help the baby humback return to sea. Photo: Philip Dottie
Rescuers help the baby humback return to sea. Photo: Philip Dottie

Locals save baby whale at Diggers

LOCAL beach-goers came to the rescue of a newborn whale stranded off the coast of Coffs Harbour on Saturday.

Around 10am Saturday local resident Philip Dottie arrived at Diggers Beach to find a beached humpback whale calf in the shallow surf.

"When I got there, there was quite a crowd gathered at the beach," he said.

"The tide was low and there were a lot of raised sand banks. Around eight to 10 people were in the water helping the whale, which, judging by the size of it, looked to be very young. They had put towels on it and were keeping its airhole clear, and splashing water on it."

Philip said the rescue took most of the morning.

"The calf had its face pointing out to sea, so they had to take the towels off the top of the whale momentarily and place them underneath and lift and turn it so it was facing to the shore. This was so it didn't send a distress call out to other whales, and risk beaching them," he said.

"They managed to push him out, but then he came back.

"It was just after lunch time when he finally went out."

National Parks and Wildlife Services spokesperson Lawrence Orel said the beached whale was first reported at around 10.30am Saturday.

"It was trapped in a sand gutter," he said.

"There were about 10 locals assisting the whale, and it took three attempts to move it back out to sea. It finally went out at around 12.30pm, and a Department of Environment and Climate Change boat shepherded the calf away from the beach. The calf slowly moved south around Macauleys Headland, and it seemed to calm down, taking shallow dives. It was last seen off Macauleys at 2pm.

"It is an unusual occurrence. The last time we had a whale beached off the Coffs Coast was around 2004 at Sandy Beach. Across the North Coast we do get around one or two beached each year.

"The whale was a very new-born calf. It is not known why it was found on its own it is most unusual for it to be without its mother, but the condition of the calf seemed okay."

Although the rescue was successful, Mr Orel said there were still concerns for the safety of the whale.

"Without its mother, a new-born calf has zero chance of survival," he said.

"It needs to feed regularly a calf needs up to 400 litres of milk a day to grow to its full length of 14 to 16 metres. It also needs protection from predators. Orcas would prey on a young calf like this one.

"We would hope that it has been reunited with its mother. It is a positive sign that it hasn't been sighted again, but it could strand again so people are asked to keep an eye out and report any further incidences."

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