One morning in November 2000, a large humpback whale was found stranded on a beach near Ubatuba, Brazil, clinging to life in the crashing surf. It didn't take long before a team was assembled of nearly one hundred fishermen, firefighters, biologists, and locals who began working tirelessly to return the struggling animal back to sea -- and after twelve long hours, they were successful. Still, as that whale slipped beneath the waves and out of sight, those volunteers could only hope their efforts were not in vain, knowing full well that the whale's chances of survival were slim. But now, after ten years of guessing, rescuers are finally sure the whale is alive and well -- because they've seen it.Sadly, beached whales have become an all too common sight in Brazil; this year alone, 95 animals have been discovered, only one of which was returned to the sea alive. For the rescuers who inevitably arrive to give beached whales a fighting chance, the work is daunting and the outcomes uncertain at best -- but for the first time ever, it has been discovered that their efforts can pay off.
In 2008, biologists doing researcher in the waters off Brazil spotted a large, healthy-looking humpback whale with coloring that was startlingly similar to the one they'd rescued from the beach eight years earlier. To confirm this unlikely reunion, skin samples were collected and compared to those taken from the stranded animal in 2000. Now, after genetic analysis, it has finally been confirmed to be the same whale.
Never before has a rescued whale been re-encountered after so long at sea -- and the news is giving hope to those who continue to devote their time to saving beached whales.
"The confirmation of the survival of this animal for a least eight years after its stranding shows that, despite the low chances of survival, it is worth every effort to save the whales," veterinarian Milton Marcondes told Brazilian media.
The odds that a whale will survive after beaching, however, are still quite slim. Of the hundreds of whales that have become stranded over the years, only three large humpbacks were returned to the ocean alive -- and even then, it isn't known whether they survive for long or not.
In the past, some have questioned if efforts to save beached whales were worth the trouble, believing that the animals were sick or injured and would likely die in either case. But for the biologists and volunteers who struggle in the surf to rescue those majestic creatures in desperate need of a helping hand, the slightest chance of success is always worth their sweat, and often, tears.
And with a fleeting glimpse of one such rescued whale, swimming alive and free against the current and against the odds -- they can carry on knowing that they do not toil in vain.