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Rescued from Certain Drowning

On September 10th 2004, local whale-watching boat captains informed us over the radio that they had discovered a minke whale in distress just off Berge¬ronnes. To assess the situation, we boated to the whale while the captains informed the Réseau (Réseau québecois d'urgences pour les mammifères marins), a network to record and rescue marine mammals in distress. Approaching the whale we could just see the tip of its pointy snout breaking the rolling sea. As if paralyzed it couldn’t swim forward  and could hardly take a breath. Right away it became clear that this minke whale was struggling for its life.

Assessing the situation

Our decision to stay with the whale to understand her behaviour in the view of a rescue attempt became the start of an exceptional experience. Every time the whale heaved itself out to breathe, a rope behind the blowholes leading over the back and downwards to the corner of the mouth, became visible. The whale was lying obliquely and slightly tilted to the left, suggesting that some kind of weight was pulling downwards. Due to the extremely poor visibility, an underwater assessment wasn't possible.

During several approaches, the minke did not or could not show any reactions to our close approaches. Not even when we touched her with a pole did  she react. It confirmed our initial evaluation, that it seemed possible to approach close enough to free her.

A daring rescue

During 40 minutes of monitoring, we noted the growing tiredness of the whale. When Jean and Serge, two trained park wardens with professional rescue equipment finally arrived, we suggested  taking appropriate action immediately. Thanks to our thorough assessment the best rescue procedure was quickly discussed and decided upon.

Many rescues might take  hours and days and are often not fully successful, we were very lucky to cut the rope quickly after a few close approaches. When grabbing it again, the whale moved its head energetically back and forth. Yet, the rope remained in the mouth. However, its tightness must have loosened, as the whale surfaced one more time, sank back into the green water slowly disappearing into a big rolling swell caused from the hurricane passing the area on previous days.

Despite an hourly long survey the whale was never seen again but as she had never  shown her dorsal fin we had not been able to identify her. Thus, with a strange turmoil of feelings we all went back to land not knowing if we had really saved the minke whale.

Finally, the Happy End

Looking at the footage of our video documentation we discovered some white patches shining through the water. We then realized that these marks could only belonged to Three Scars. Our excitement was im¬mense but the anxiousness that the rescue might had not been fully successful remained.

From then on everybody at sea was on the lookout for Three Scars. Sure enough we sighted her about a week later just off Baie Bon Désir, her preferred feeding habitat. She swam as fast and strong as ever leaping way out of the rough sea. Some light abrasions behind her head documented the entanglement so that the locals lovingly nicknamed her Five Scars.

This successful rescue was possible due to the wonderful co-operation and dedication of whale-watching boat captains, the Réseau, Parks Canada and ORES.


Watch the video of the rescue.