On July 22, 2015, Eric Keen was aboard his boat, the Bangarang, observing a pod of orcas when he noticed something was amiss, as the story on ForWhales.org recalls. While hunting seals with her family, a juvenile orca miscalculated and found herself beached once the tide receded away from the shore of Andrew Rocks near Hartley Bay, BC Canada.
He immediately called a nearby rescue and research team for Cetacea Lab. With tide levels continuing to drop, they knew the orca was going to need immediate action.
Though the research team has been observing and collecting data on Humpback Whales and Orcas since 2001, they had never encountered a beached whale before. They contacted the Gitga'at Guardians of Hartley Bay and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for guidance.
As the day progressed, the sun began to beat down directly onto the orca, quickly drying out her skin. Maintaining her hydration was of critical importance.
By the time members of Gitga'at and DFO arrived, Keen had just finishing building a make-shift water pump. Blankets and towels were recovered to protect her skin from direct sunlight, while the volunteers strove to keep her comfortable for the next 8 hours until the tide would rise again.
Not used to having humans in such close proximity, the orca showed clear signs of distress. She would call out to her family, who remained nearby, but helpless to assist. Not used to experiencing the full weight of her body on dry land, her breathing was laborious. Still, the gentle yet persistent care from the rescuers must have communicated their positive intent. Hours in, she finally began to relax and even closed her eyes as she awaited her chance to swim back to her family.
When the make-shift pump finally gave way, the rescuers turned to buckets and bins. Luckily, the tide was also beginning to rise again. The juvenile orca instinctively began to flip her tail, gauging the depth of the increasing water. Not wanting to interfere with her natural instincts, the team carefully removed all her coverings and backed away.
As soon as she had broken free of the rocks, the elated orca began to vocalize. Her family, who had since retreated from the area, were soon heard through a hydrophone responding to her cries.
Exhausted and overwhelmed by the emotions of the day, the rescuers could not have asked for a better reward than seeing her rejoin her family. Watch a video of the rescue below.