On Saturday 10th January 2009 a five metre whale stranded in Fethiye harbour was successfully returned to the open sea.

Lost Stranger

On Friday 9th January 2009 a large grey creature was seen wallowing in the water around the boat yard well inside the bay of Fethiye.

Fethiye’s resident marine biologist Meryem Tekin donned her wet suit and boots to examine the new arrival.

The large, grey creature was wallowing in the shallows, underneath the hulks of yachts and gulets and surrounded by the paraphernalia expected in an industrial area. Not the most accessible place to do a full examination and to instigate a rescue.

The local Zabita or Municipal Policing Authority had said it was a dolphin and the crowds of people assembled to watch the event thought the same but Tekin knew better.

Although at that stage she was not able to identify the species, she knew full well that the size, position of the dorsal fin, width of the tail and the shape of the eyes meant that this was no ‘flipper’ but rather a whale.

Later that evening, with the help of organisations and individuals from Turkey and Europe, together with the massive data base of Google, it was suggested that it was a female adult Sowerby’s Beaked Whale. A species of which little is known owing to their intensely private nature, with the result that there is little or no available research.  But this was a fairly wild guess owing to the position of the whale and the enveloping gloom of the shipyard.

Expert Advice

As various local officials turned up to see what was going on, mobile phones became white hot as calls were made to various contacts active in the environmental scene.

Vets, expert in their field from the UK, members of Underwater Research Society, the – Marine Mammal Research Group (SAD-DEMAG) of Ankara, people who maybe could pull strings with the local authorities; all were asked to do what they could or offer advice. All were more than happy to help.

Help At Hand

The Coast Guard sent a Zodiac boat with two young and enthusiastic crew, the local fishermen offered their boats.

The crowd grew and in the darkness there could be heard a hum of expectation.

Meryem and her helpers had to come up with a plan to get the whale out of the diesel covered water.

A suggestion was made to tie a rope around its tail and tow it out but thankfully for the whale that idea was quickly squashed.

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The problem is that no facilities are available in Fethiye for rescuing or rehabilitating a large sea mammal…or a small one come to that.

A Dolphin therapy and research centre in Marmaris (Dolphins Inside), run by Alex and his son offered to drive over with a cradle which although on the small side – normally it was used for dolphins – was better than nothing.

Marmaris is at least a two hour drive from Fethiye so time became of the essence.

But with the darkness and cold of the night it was only sensible to embark on a rescue the next morning.

The Rescue

At 7am the following morning the team (and the crowd) reassembled.

The plan was agreed – the whale would be held in a cradle and taken back out of the bay into the open sea. It was hoped that this would help the whale to find its bearings and return to its normal habitat of the deep sea.

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The helpers donned their wet suits, the dolphin cradle was assembled with the help of the Coastguard and Meryem’s Carretta Diving boat was at the ready.

The team then began the delicate process of placing the whale into the protective case at that would enable it to be taken by boat out to sea.

After around an hour of coaxing and a few splashes the whale was safely contained.

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To avoid any more stress and possibility of injury from a turning propeller the boat to which the whale was attached was towed.

The rescue team then began their slow journey to the open sea.

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Success

The boats made their way out of the bay, past Sovaliye Island and out beyond Red Island.

The Coastguard provided a safe distance escort in their high powered rib in case of any mishaps. 

Two hours later the whale was successfully released by the helpers.

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A Triumph

Despite the lack of purpose made equipment the rescue team successfully returned the whale to the open sea.

Well done to all of them!

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