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jet126
06-01-2011, 05:45
Pilot whales still need 24-hour care from 'citizen nurses' | KeysNews.com (http://keysnews.com/node/32144)

Didn't see a thread regarding this. I volunteered this past Friday night. The experience was so overwhelming it's taken me a few days to process. If anyone plans to be in the Keys any time in the next couple of months: Volunteer! You will not regret it.

Volunteer experience processed - four days later

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Jenny and I arrived for our 12-4am shift Friday night. It was dark and the whales were nothing more than dark shapes in the water. Four volunteers surrounded each and it was all so very quiet. The man giving the orientation said it was a “hospital setting” and he was right. I felt compelled to speak in a soft voice. Loud talking and laughter seemed somehow inappropriate.

I was asked to help out with 300. I took secondary position, placing one hand on her dorsal fin and the other on the shoulder of the volunteer in front of me. Her skin felt smooth and soft, more human than animal.

She was quivering. Not granny-holding-a-teacup shaky. More like a racehorse at the starting gate. If the quiver had a sound it would have been a low corvette rumble. I glanced behind me at her tail. That’s when it hit me: WHOA. Her tail, hidden from shore by the dark water, stretched out as long again as her body. The mighty strength of that tail and fluke humbled me. I was holding (holding!!!) a wild animal that could kill me as quickly and easily as a lion. And she was allowing me to stand right there next to her! I tilted my head up and looked at the night sky, full of stars. My eyes filled with tears.

At one point the lights went out. We stood in silence, holding the animals, our feet constantly shifting to maintain balance in the chest-deep water. When the lights came back on, the three whales had somehow managed to move everyone closer together. We were asked to gently herd them back into their original positions.

After a short break I was put on 302 in primary position. I could tell instantly that she was not as strong as 300. I felt if I let go she would sink. My forearm started to ache and cramp within a few minutes. It is still sore now, four days later. The breath from her blowhole was awful! She even smelled sick. She did not quiver like 300. I pray she will make it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with three whales. I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed that I didn’t get to hold the baby, 301. I wasn't expecting to dream of whales. And I certainly wasn’t expecting to plan when I can volunteer again.

Diver Kat
06-01-2011, 09:15
Sounds truly amazing jet. We can only hope that these amazing creatures make it through their ordeal.

DMWiz
06-01-2011, 09:50
Way to put your feelings into words!

Thank you for sharing and I wish I could be there for them and experience what you did.

scubajane
06-01-2011, 17:09
wow... i'm speechless... thanks for sharing!!!

Skred
06-02-2011, 11:41
Great stuff jet! I sent a link to your post to my dive buddy/wife. We're in the Key Largo area a couple of times a year and we agree that if volunteers are still needed next time we're down, we're in!

Thank you very much for the post. :smiley20:

jet126
06-02-2011, 20:38
Thanks all. Keep checking the marine mammal conservancy website for updates. It looks like I will get down there again around the end of June.

Another friend who recently volunteered really summed it up well. She said "I drove down thinking I was going to help the whales. And I drove home realizing the whales had helped me."

chinacat46
06-02-2011, 20:43
Good on you!

TwistedSister209
06-03-2011, 06:02
Powerful. Thanks for sharing.

josh7284
06-03-2011, 12:54
that's pretty awesome. makes me consider volunteering when we head down there this summer

jet126
06-30-2011, 14:29
I did another shift with the "girls" this past Monday. They had to euthanize 302 so they're down to two whales. 301 (the baby) is in a pen by herself. She is doing fine. One person basically sits out there and watches. She swims around, keeping an eye on 300 and the goings-on. She will spend her life in captivity: she was orphaned before she learned necessary skills to survive on her own in the wild.

300 is in guarded condition. They said she is slowing improving but it is still weeks (months?) before they will know if she can be released.

Maybe because I knew what to expect I was able to process everything more quickly this time. I scribed the first half of my shift. We checked heart rate and breath count every hour. They do physical therapy every 30 minutes. Sometimes manipulate the tail, sometimes have her swim into a generated current, sometimes free swim around the pen. I had to write everything down. Then I was assigned primary position. The main thing is to keep her blow hole free of water - not easy with a wiggly 1200 lb whale. I was right by her head and mouth as they fed her fish! I also got to put my hand on her chest and count her heart beat.

On my shift there was a retired school teacher from Sarasota, a psychiatrist from Miami, a dad and son on vacation from Ohio, four office buddies from Delray who took the day off together to do this. Just such a unique gathering from all walks of life, united in one common goal.

It's such an incredible opportunity - to help the whales, of course - but also on the human level to connect like this with total strangers.

9561

navyhmc
06-30-2011, 16:45
Pretty cool Jet. Thanks for doing what you're doing.

buddha0724
07-01-2011, 06:12
You are the best Jet. Thanks for jumping in and "paying it forward".

Your post was very touching too. Made my wife cry!

Jennym
09-05-2011, 19:18
Jet126 - I am not only a new diver (certified a month ago) but I am new to this forum too! I had to write and reply because last night my husband and I did a shift with 300. We were in the Keys for my first amazing diving experience - and just had to volunteer with this wonderful organization. I am hoping you will be pleased to know that 300 seems to have turned a major corner! She spent most of our shift playing in her pen and is really doing great! She isn't out of the woods yet and we got to help feed her and hold her during her nebulizer treatment. What an amazing creature! 301 is off to Sea World already and 300 will not be far behind - although they do not know when just yet - they have decided she cannot be released. Anyway - I thought you might appreciate an update and I agree with you on what a wonderful experience this was!

jet126
09-06-2011, 06:27
Jet126 - I am not only a new diver (certified a month ago) but I am new to this forum too!

Hi Jenny -
Welcome to diving and welcome to the forum. What extraordinary way to begin your aquatic life! Thank you for volunteering and thank you for sharing your experience. It's so important (at least for me) to give back when you can. I get so much from our world underwater: enjoyment, education, challenge, therapy ... I'm grateful for opportunities to make a difference - even if it's to just one.
jet

Zeagle Eagle
09-06-2011, 08:05
I did another shift with the "girls" this past Monday. They had to euthanize 302 so they're down to two whales. 301 (the baby) is in a pen by herself. She is doing fine. One person basically sits out there and watches. She swims around, keeping an eye on 300 and the goings-on. She will spend her life in captivity: she was orphaned before she learned necessary skills to survive on her own in the wild.

300 is in guarded condition. They said she is slowing improving but it is still weeks (months?) before they will know if she can be released.

Maybe because I knew what to expect I was able to process everything more quickly this time. I scribed the first half of my shift. We checked heart rate and breath count every hour. They do physical therapy every 30 minutes. Sometimes manipulate the tail, sometimes have her swim into a generated current, sometimes free swim around the pen. I had to write everything down. Then I was assigned primary position. The main thing is to keep her blow hole free of water - not easy with a wiggly 1200 lb whale. I was right by her head and mouth as they fed her fish! I also got to put my hand on her chest and count her heart beat.

On my shift there was a retired school teacher from Sarasota, a psychiatrist from Miami, a dad and son on vacation from Ohio, four office buddies from Delray who took the day off together to do this. Just such a unique gathering from all walks of life, united in one common goal.

It's such an incredible opportunity - to help the whales, of course - but also on the human level to connect like this with total strangers.

9561

I wonder if it is possible to release that baby whale to current pod. Would they accept her and teach her to fend for herself?

jet126
09-06-2011, 09:41
I wonder if it is possible to release that baby whale to current pod. Would they accept her and teach her to fend for herself?

I don't think so, Z. All the news articles said non-releasable because she was too young. I'm no marine mammal expert, but I can tell you that there are certain critical milestones a calf has to pass in order to survive in the wild. If they don't learn them by a certain age, they never will.

The good news is that "Fredi" (301's new name given by Sea World) will live a long happy life and be a wonderful ambassador for her species. There are very few pilot whales in captivity and the knowledge that will come from studying her and 300 will be shared by the cetacean community world-wide.

Jennym
09-06-2011, 19:59
Jet - you're absolutely correct, that is what the staff told us about the baby - she simply would never have had the ability to live in the wild due to her age when she was stranded. I will definitely keep track of both the baby and 300 (they call 300 Caroline). They seem to update the Marine Mammal Conservatory Facebook page pretty frequently - so I have been keeping up with them there. Take care!

scubajane
09-06-2011, 22:13
sooo now I have yet another reason to move to Florida... now I want to help the pilot whales........