Whale tale: DFO uses fake whale for Nanaimo rescue drill

By Ian Holmes
December 4, 2018 - 11:46am Updated: December 4, 2018 - 12:19pm

A fake six-meter long whale was used during a rescue drill at Departure Bay Beach Tuesday morning.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

Several fisheries officers with the DFO participating in the mock rescue of a stranded whale Tuesday morning at Departure Bay Beach.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

A blow-up whale attracted attention Tuesday morning at Departure Bay Beach during a re-flotation drill. Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

Paul Cottrell, regional coordinator for marine mammal rescue for the DFO, speaking to reporters prior to a whale rescue drill Tuesday morning at Departure Bay Beach.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A blow-up whale may have looked like the real thing at Departure Bay Beach but it was only a drill testing new rescue equipment.

Roughly a dozen officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stablized and released the fake whale during a 45-minute drill Tuesday morning on the popular beach. They used new advanced rescue equipment which had arrived over the past six months. 

Paul Cottrell, regional coordinator for marine mammal rescue with the department, told NanaimoNewsNOW the equipment means rescuers can act faster and save larger whales. 

“In a year we get anywhere from five-to-10 live stranded cetaceans that we respond to,” Cotrell said. “Often mammals die but of course this equipment is going to help us and hopefully make sure that more mammals survive.” 

The upgraded equipment, funded through the federal Oceans Protection Plan, allows up to 14 people to lift, tow and control the whale in the water with use of a sling and pontoon.

Cottrell said without the equipment, they would some times have to rely on a tidal change to help move a stranded whale.

Three more sets of rescue equipment for stranded cetaceans, such as mid-sized whales and dolphins, will arrive next year. Cottrell is now training federal and First Nations personnel throughout BC's coast in areas where stranded whales have been an issue.

The drill to re-float the blow-up whale attracted several curious on-lookers to Departure Bay Beach.

Cottrell said these simulated exercises have led to legitimate concerns from people in other communities watching from on shore.

“We do get calls because it does look so real and life-like,” Cottrell said.

The NanaimoNewsNOW newsroom fielded numerous calls and concerns during the brief drill.


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