Volunteer Next to Beached Whale

Ziphius cavirostris stranding (#2) at Muri Beach, Rarotonga Cook islands

Another rare beaked whale came over the reef a few days after we successfully rescued the first one. This whale was found washed up dead on the reef between Motutapu and Onearo. Marisa and Gracie waded out to the whale across the lagoon and collected complete measurements with skin samples! What a wonderful job they did! Hayes and Nan met them out there, and we all wandered back together as Hayes droned the whale in the lagoon for a National Geographic TV special. A few days later the volunteer veterinarians helped Gracie and Nan necropsy the whale. It was starting to decay, and the smell was atrocious. The crew from Te Ara Manu were amazing, and thank goodness they were there. Nan had started a new medication for her CRPS that day and explained that she was feeling like a total space cadet. Just in the knick of time to catch the tide, Elise and Jesse showed up and finished removing the head. They floated it to Avana Harbor where we had to wave down the crew of the Vaka to come help us lift it into the truck. They were all smiles until they saw all the blood and blubber, but they were good sports. Off Nan headed in the truck towards Takuvaine Valley. Upon arrival to the valley, Nan realized that she needed to get this head out of the truck by herself. She lay on her back and pushed with both feet until it slipped easily off the tailgate.

Two Rescuers Assisting a WhaleTeam of Volunteers

All was fine until a storm came a couple of days later. It was raining so hard that Nan went to make sure that the head was okay… but it wasn’t. It had started to float down the river. She ran up to the house putting on operating room scrubs and a raincoat. Brenna watched with the headlights from the truck as Nan jumped into the stream. The head had floated way down stream and Nan held onto it as hard as she possibly could, trying not to damage her right shoulder that was recently operated on. Soon the water came over the bridge. The power of the water swept Nan and the head down the stream for a good five minutes. She had to let go of the head with great sadness so that she wouldn’t drown. Grabbing onto branches from a tree, she climbed out on the shore and lay there in the dark. For the next 15 minutes Nan did an army crawl with one arm through the dark, thick jungle. It was pouring rain and all she could think about was centipedes and spiders crawling all over her. When she reached a patch of banana trees, she knew she was closer to home and started yelling for help. Brenna heard the cries and helped rescue her.

The next morning Nan and team member Stan searched the stream and unbelievably found the head all the way down by the ocean. It was pretty smashed up by that time, but Nan grabbed all her necropsy instruments and cut the rotting flesh off the head. She put it in the tall grass, away from people and animals, only to find it the next morning dragged out into the middle of a field, where the neighbor’s dogs were chewing on it like a big dog bone. Stan had an idea of filling one of the large garbage bins full of water, where it has been soaking for the past 6 months. Yes folks, it still needs to be analyzed! To be continued…

Woman Holding up Tools to Assist Whale

Finding the Cause of the Beached Whale