Guest blog by Alexander Sánchez
Equinac is dedicated to the rescue of cetaceans that are stranding or sighted in distress near shore. We also help sea turtles which are entangled in plastic debris or facing other problems.
We have set up the toll-free emergency number 112 in Spain, so that anyone who sees a marine animal in strass, can call us. When we receive such an alert, as many members of Equinac’s technical and veterinary team as possible reach the area. Usually the person who lives closest to the stranding site drives to the location immediately to provide first aid, while others are in charge of transporting the materials (veterinary equipment, rescue pontoons, etc.) to the site and provide support.
Sea turtle rescues are easier, and locals who sight them are asked to pick them up, keep them in a recipient, and make sure they are humid by draping a wet towel over their shell.
Cetaceans are more difficult to rescue and they have an very low survival rate whereas almost every sea turtle survives, no matter how badly injured.
Such is the contrast, that sea turtles can be entangled, present grave injuries (even amputated limbs), etc. and survive, and on the other hand many of the cetaceans that strand can die simply due to the stress of having a lot of people near them. This is why crowd control and awareness is sometimes crucial when dealing with cetaceans.
One of my favourite personal experiences was in 2012 during the stranding and attempted rehabilitation of a juvenile striped dolphin. Once he escaped from the sea pen, got lost, and was later found swimming around a floating buoy. I jumped in the water with one of my colleagues and the dolphin recognized us and swam with us back into the sea pen. This event ocured during very very bad weather. Luckily at that time Ric O’Barry (Dolphin Project) and Mark Palmer’s (Earth Island Institute) visited us and gave us good advise in this particular “rescue mission”. Unfortunately the juvenile striped dolphin died during one of the very heavy storms.
Another most magical moment was the experience of Eva Morón, founder and coordinator of Equinaq a few years ago. A pilot whale stranded on a beach. It was accompanied by another animal which was was about to strand also. The team managed to lead this animal back out to sea. While staying in the water and keeping this whale floating, it didn’t permit Eva to mount back onto the boat. It seemed as if he wanted to keep her company. Eventually the whale swam off and left us with deep feelings for this interspecies communication and interaction.
One of the main reasons for the strandings is without doubt human waste and contamination in our seas. Dolphins have stranded with ropes tied to their flukes. We assume that this sometimes also happens when fishermen try to drag these animals out of their nets. Sea turtles often strand with entangled limbs. In dead animals which have been examinated, plastic debris have been found in their stomach.
At present we are caring and rehabilitating a small loggerhead turtle whichs front left flipper was so terribly entangled that it hat to be amputated. The turtle will survive. It was very lucky to have been brought to us by some very kind surfers. Plastic debris is a huge and unnecessary problem which creats anourmous suffering for many marine animals.
Since 2012 OceanCare has been extremely supportive of our non-profit stranding network and helped us regularly with vital funding for important actions and materials. Most recently they helped by co-funding a set of rescue pontoons, which is a large inflatable stretcher (designed by Steve Whitehouse of Whale-Rescue NZ) used to refloat large cetaceans such as pilot whales. These pontoons are the first of their kind in the Iberian peninsula, and Equinac has notified other networks about this material being available for them if they ever need it. Luckily, we still haven’t had to use them other than in practice drills!
I trust that our friendship with OceanCare will grow. Recently I met Sylvia Frey, OceanCare Director Science and Education at a conference on cetacean welfare we both attended. It makes a huge different to know people personally. Just a couple of weeks ago OceanCare has agreed to help finance our website and pay for our vehicle’s insurance. We are extremely grateful, and are proud to have their support.