Whale watching is a favorite pastime and a tourist attraction along nearly every coast in the world. But for enthusiasts traveling to the West Coast of the USA, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is a treasure trove for those looking to catch a glimpse some of the ocean’s most majestic creatures. Orcas, humpback whales, and gray whales are just a few of the many different marine species that can be observed from the area’s coasts.
Because these animals venture so close to shore, it’s a prime opportunity for humans to observe them. But it also places those animals in danger of becoming stranded ashore during low tide. And that’s exactly what happened to one gray whale last month when Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Bill Lohman was vacationing in Washington’s Olympic National Park.
Bill and his wife were drawn to the scene after witnessing a flurry of activity and the arrival of two park rangers. As they drew closer to the commotion, they happened upon a massive creature that could almost be mistaken for one of the beach’s giant rocks in the early morning glow. It was a gray whale that had become stranded after swimming close to the shore to feed. And, incredibly, it was still alive.
Rangers estimated that the whale would be able to survive for maybe a day out of the water, but the half-hearted flaps of its tail and the dismal outlook of the situation were heart wrenching for Bill and the other onlookers. Told that marine life specialists were on their way, Bill and his family left the sad scene and returned to their campsite.
Incredible, when Bill and his family returned to the scene on Friday morning, the whale was still there on the beach. And still, the whale was alive. Even though it seemed like a hopeless situation, rescuers refused to give up. So that night, as the tide rolled in, they made one last incredible effort at saving the beautiful creature.
The crews placed ropes and pulleys around the whale, and dug several trenches hoping that it would afford the whale enough space to make an escape in the high tide waters. They even placed an anchor into the sand and attached it to one of the ropes to help ensure that the whale would not be washed further ashore. And then, all they could do was wait.
As the waters slowly rolled in, rescuers and onlookers held their breath and prayed that the whale would be saved. After all, it had already beat the odds by surviving this long. John Calambokidis, who is a research biologist with Cascadia Research of Olympia, Washington, shared that beached whales seldom make it back out to sea, even with assistance.
But for this gray whale, and the humans who had tried so hard to save it, the story had a happy ending. As the day faded into night, the whale finally swam out into its great ocean home. As its silhouette was engulfed by the misty sea, the rescuers began to cheer.