Beaked whale at “Sydney-Ally” – July 2002

The news about a big live dolphin observed near the shore of Sydney-Ally, Herzelyia, as first reported by the local lifeguards, spread very fast among IMMRAC's volunteers, sending the rescue team as fast as the wind to the site, equipped with all necessary rescue items.

First to arrive on site was Sara-lee, head of the Southern rescue team, who immediately took charge, with the help of the lifeguards on jet-skis, in searching for the dolphin (which turned out to be a beaked whale). Sara-lee & the lifeguards carefully guided the whale, which was passive and breathed heavily, towards the shore and supported it on a stretcher at the water surface so it could breathe freely.


Although routinely able to dive and breath-hold for half an hour or more, sick and stressed animals ventilate regularly and may lose control of the muscles that shut tight the nostrils when covered with water.

Despite all rescue efforts, the whale breathed its last after only several minutes. It was later moved to IMMRAC’s center at Michmoret for an autopsy which revealed a young male in extreme malnutrition and emaciation, to the point that made species identification uncertain. Only after several days, consulting with scientists from abroad after sending them photographs, the whale’s species was ascertained as Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

Many parasites were discovered on the whale’s body and in its tissues, mainly the kidneys and 4˝ kg of nylon bags were taken out from the stomach! Many squid beaks, the main component of beaked whales' diet, were also found in the stomach. This behavior of swallowing nylon and plastics items is characteristic of beaked whales and other squid eating cetaceans as well as jellyfish eaters like sea turtles, who may mistake them for prey. It is possible that sick and weak animals, no longer capable of deep diving and chasing prey are more prone to accumulate plastic debris. The main danger, again, is that of blockage of food passage and slow death by starvation.

Inner look on the stranding at Sydney-Ally: The story of Sara-lee

It all started like another ordinary day at work in front of the computer… who would have thought that a couple of hours later everything would change? I got a beeper call that bounced me from my seat, and after a few minutes I was already on my way to Sydney-Ally beach. I always surprise myself with my big lack of patience, especially on these kinds of occasions

I arrived pretty fast as far as I could get with the car, took out my rescue kit, the stretcher & started running towards the reported area. After a brief questioning & a quick scan of the site – I found out actually that there’s no dolphin!

“We played with him, riding him and then turned him back to deep water” said the nice lifeguard with pride… full of good intentions. Then I really started to worry! In less than two minutes, I was in the water, riding a jet-ski, in the company of the lifeguard (who later got from me a crash course on the "Dos" and "Don'ts" of marine mammals’ rescue…). After two more minutes we found the dolphin lying against rocks in the sallow water, weak, thin and with no vitality. We approached very cautiously & I jumped in to the water… “Dolphin it’s not” I said to myself, filled with pity for this poor whale. It was very dangerous at water, the waves kept throwing me on the rocks, and I was so happy to see my father with mask & snorkel swimming to help. Soon, more volunteers came – and I was assured to know I’m not alone.

As the minutes passed by, the tension increased as did the number of people on shore, some that came to help, and some that just wanted to watch, but really were in our way. We lead the whale to the sandy part of the shallows, put it on the stretcher and held its head above water, exactly the way we did with the grampus female… a shiver of unpleasant memories shot through me… I supported it on one side, near its head, looking into its big, smart & sad eyes, while it was taking very heavy & slow breaths. Soon, the interval between breaths was getting longer, and every minute looked like eternity while we were waiting for the rescue car to arrive. When the next breath didn’t come – I knew it was over!

The tickle of tears in my eyes, was mixed with the relief of a huge burden and the knowledge that it is probably better this way… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or maybe so – where lifeguards are concerned) to know that to the poor animal that I ran into at mid-life, hade scant chances! Nevertheless, it was worth a try…                               

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