Dragon Rescue Recovers Whale

At 7 pm on the evening of 1st September 2009, Cardiff-based Dragon Rescue received an unusual call from South Wales Police. They wanted an incident manager to assess the recovery of a 15 tonne 33 feet Minke whale that had landed on the rocks in the Vale of Glamorgan. Dragon Rescues managing director, Andrew Archbold, made his way to the incident and once on scene made contact with the police and local authority to discuss how they wanted to resolve the situation. At this stage it was discovered that the previous day, the whale had been beached in the Burnham on Sea area in Somerset, but two jetskis, towed it out to sea, believing it was still alive. Obviously this was not the case and with the strong winds and rough seas that day, the whale ended up in the Barry area of the Vale of Glamorgan. The police wanted the whale winched up the slipway so that it didn’t go back out to sea and become a shipping hazard. However, as the incident had attracted around 200 spectators, the local authority asked Dragon if the whale could be removed to a secure compound until its disposal could be arranged. Andrew agreed, and contacted their control room to arrange for the necessary equipment to recover this unusual load. He commented, “As it was a high tide, that evening H M Coastguard towed the whale off the rocks and placed at the bottom of a slipway. We then arranged for our Llandoll low loader to attend with all the necessary straps. By this time, a marine biologist who studied whales had arrived on the scene, and with his assistance we were able to handle the whale in the correct manner, and by lifting the tail and using a choker to attach the winch to its tail, we winched the whale gently onto the back of the trailer.” Before the whale was recovered, a six inch square hole had to be cut into the whale’s abdomen to prevent build up of gases from decomposition. In a similar incident in Taiwan several years ago a dead whale was being transported on a low loader, when it literally exploded on a busy street in Tainan, showering cars and shops with blood and entrails. The whale was secured onto the Llandoll and then transported from Barry to Dragon’s compound in Cardiff bay under police escort as some 30 vehicles were following the low loader, trying to capture photographs of the whale. On arriving at the compound Andrew was amazed at the number of curious spectators trying to catch a glimpse of the dead whale. He said,” We stored the recovery vehicle at the far side of our compound. This was partly to keep it out of sight from the crowd that had gathered but also because of the awful smell from the decomposing whale which wasn’t helped by the six inch square which had been cut into its stomach.” The next morning they received a visit from Dr Adrian Glover from the Natural History Museum in London. They had never known a Minke whale to be recovered so this was an extremely rare opportunity to take samples from the whale and to carry out research on the carcass of the mammal. As Dr Glover set about his work, Dragon liaised with the local authorities to arrange the disposal of the whale that day as the smell was getting unbearable. They contacted Fromevale from Dorset, a specialist animal removal company, who travelled to Dragon Rescue with a sealed bulk tipping trailer to remove the whale. Once Fromevale arrived, Dragon planned the lift of the whale using their new Rotator. Despite the smell and instability of the decomposing carcass, the lift was performed faultlessly by their most experienced operative Bryn Morris. Added Andrew, “Once the whale had left Dragon it was a major job to clean up of the yard and equipment. The Llandoll had to be completely decontaminated and we had to dispose of all equipment that had been used in the recovery. We then contracted a specialist drain company to empty our yard interceptors and to clean the drainage of the entire site. It was certainly an unusual job, but one that I shan’t forget for a long time.” More images supplied by Dragon Rescue BBC video report