Monday, August 10, 2009

Piping Plover Watch and a Beached Minke Whale Named Opal

Part 1:
This is my Tale of Piping Plover Bird Police and a Beached, Dying Minke Whale, we named Opal.
On Saturday, despite battling a whopping case of food poisoning, I woke up early to make a nice early start for Cape Henlopen State Park ( CHSP) Bird Police and to snag parking at my gig, The Point.
I groaned as I entered the parking lot..... full to the gills.   I scooted into the slimmest of spots...... then looked around....... important DNREC vehicles loaded the lot.  I knew something important was happening.  I called out to a local who announced the news, a live beached whale.
 As I approached the bayside  beach, throngs of people were massed on the public side watching the wrenching story.
At ~ 6:45 AM a live Minke Whale beached on the sandbar while the tide was coming in.  The local MERR team went into action and so did many recruited beach-goers.
I arrived at 9:45AM, and noted immediately the tide.....almost high tide.  Only 2 safe working hours.  With this knowledge I was near to bawling.
The MERR team valiantly herded the whale out to deeper waters 4 times, only to watch the whale make that gloomy u-turn back to shore.  I witnessed 2 times.
The beach was also filled with an enormous back-hoe, nearly all of CHSP DNREC rangers and the CHSP Administrator.
There was no need for me to do much but my usual duty of making certain the restricted area stayed free and clear.   Although I did not see him present, I was certain Matt Bailey, the Director of Natural Heritage-Endangered Species-Beach Nesters knew the basic situation.  
The Whale tired of trying, and tired of the corralling by waders and kayakers..... then made her final dash for shore, 50 yards into the Restricted Area, "home" for the Piping Plovers and Least Terns!
The public almost dove into the restricted area........ the little kids were beyond themselves with excitement.
On the cell, I called Mat Bailey, and said he had a whale in the restricted area.
As we waited for Matt's arrival...... 20 minute drive which was one hour  and 20 minutes due to the weekend resort traffic...... the pace slowed.  Matt had to be there to start making the decisions involved.
Part 2:
Back at my Posted Fence Line Duty I quickly had to determine who was who.  Public crashing the gate or MERR Team or DNREC or????  I caught on to this easily and directed all to walk along the water's edge.
I was put in charge of holding a DNREC walky-talky.  Now that was fun hearing the insider's talk ;-)
MERR quickly set up a tent and ordered in Pizza and water.
Soaked towels and sheets covered the whale.  Buckets of water poured onto her to keep her skin from sun-burning.   Affectionate pats were given.  
As the tide went out, we could see her!  GORGEOUS, Beautiful, CREATURE!!!! 
Our whale was dying her lungs, carrying some water, and collapsing under her weight,  the choice was made to call the Vet for euthanasia.
The Vet arrived much later than anyone expected.  The CHSP lifeguards after their duty were asked to help the MERR Crew of virtually all women.  The lifeguards helped man-handle the whale for the injections.  Our whale passed on ~ 12 hours after her arrival.  Her struggle was heroic.
Non-stop until ~ 3 PM I was on Whale Learning Curve and educated  the public as to the goings-on, the restricted area, endangered birds!  Then my food poisoned body needed to get out the hot sun and humidity and recover.  I promised Matt Bailey I'd return Sunday to continue in my role.
Before I left, I was honored with the invitation to approach our Whale.  With many thank you-s for gracing our Oceans and blessings for her Passing, I placed my open hand on her nose.
It was near impossible to separate and return to my beach shack.
Part 3:
Why are we so drawn to our encounters with sea mammals?  My heart leaps when I see dolphin pods, my heart leaps even more when I am swimming and dolphins surface so near me I hear the blow holes!
When their world enters our world, and visa versa we are in awe.  Whales do not want to drown so they choose death on land..... which is our world. 
When I arrived for Sunday Duty it was an entirely different experience.  Our beautiful, shimmering Whale was just a dead fish, being clinically carved the all female team for necropsy studies.
Our Whale was a Beautiful Girl, yes, a "teenager" female, at 22 feet, 4-5 tons. The closest on site clinical guess to the death was she recently gave birth...... most likely at the recent full Moon Lunar Eclipse.
A screen was set up to block the gruesome view, but the whale was so huge... it could not be hidden.  You could walk out at the low tide and get quite the view of the back-hoe lifting the severed head, mouth wide open to obtain samples.
My Bird Police/Whale Interpretation Role now became "Grief Counsellor" for the families with  little children who were both fascinated, awed, and deeply disturbed by the visuals.  I listened carefully to their questions.
A sweet little girl asked me, " Did you name the whale"?  " Oh, no", I answered.  She replied, " She is Black and White, so I named her Opal".  I was stunned!  I told her I loved the name,  and I would always refer to the Whale as Opal.  I promised her I would tell everyone involved, her name is Opal!
Many questions went as followed: "Why are you digging a hole for the whale"?  I would then put my hand on the child's head and answer that the whale was dead and needed burial.
Part: 4
Upon the invite of Matt Bailey, DNREC and MERR, I spent some time under the tent, in observation of the activities.  As I did I also had to watch my "fence post" duty for intruding public..... which they did.
MERR members showed me, the ear and the eyeball!  As my stomach did flip-flops, I thought it was time to return to my post.  My Opal was gone.  Not a bit of her remained with her cut and bloodied remains.
The remainder of the afternoon I hung at the fence line continuing my "Grief Counsellor Role", answering a zillion questions on life and death of birds and whales.
Finally my body still suffering with food poisioning called and demanded a cool down by swimming.  The beach was fairly empty of beach-goers, and I had put in a total of 9.25 hours for the weekend.
It was time to return to my world, my Dewey Beach- beach shack.  It was time to contemplate one of the most important encounters I've ever had with an Ocean Mammal, Our Opal, the Minke Whale.

1 comment:

  1. Rachael,

    That was a beautiful account of a very sad story. Your role as "Grief Counselor" may have made more difference than you'll ever know; awakening the hearts, minds, and eyes of people (especially, the children) through an event in the world of nature most never experience.

    Thank you for these last hours of Opal.

    Bill T.
    Magnolia, TX