by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
Last Thursday at around 9 a.m. local time, a boat off the eastern shore of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska spotted a heart wrenching scene: a 20-foot killer whale stranded high and dry on the rocks of the island’s jagged coast. When the vessel reported the stranding, its crew swiftly received authorization to begin bathing the beached whale with seawater to keep its skin moist, reports Michelle Theriault Boots for the Anchorage Daily News. The crew also fought off encroaching birds, which had begun trying to gouge out beak-fulls of the still-living marine mammal’s flesh.
The boat’s captain, Chance Strickland, tells Alyssa Lukpat and Jacey Fortin of the New York Times that he could hear this embattled whale calling out as he and his crew doused it with buckets of seawater.
Strickland and his crew were able to depart from the scene once an officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Alaska Wildlife Troopers arrived, report Alaa Elassar and Andy Rose of CNN. The goal was to keep the whale safe and its skin damp and cool until the tide got high for the animal to float and, eventually, swim to the safety of deeper waters.