'We need whale rescue': Call for Bay to step up
ABOUT three years ago, Mike Sawyer looked into the eyes of two whales not long before they died.
The seasoned sailor was out on his boat in Hervey Bay when he came across the gentle giants, washed up.
He and others nearby were desperate to jump into action and do what they could to save the animals.
But their hands were tied.
When a whale strands, it is against the law for any member of the public to touch it.
Full authority for dealing with beached whales lies with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Ultimately, Mr Sawyer says, waiting for QPWS to respond took too long and the whales died.
While a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Science said rangers in Hervey Bay and on Fraser Island were fully-trained to respond quickly in such scenarios, Mr Sawyer said something needed to change.
A long-time whale advocate, now in his late 70s, he said Hervey Bay needed its own whale rescue service, independent of QPWS.
As the newly-proclaimed whale capital of the world, the city had a responsibility to do whatever it could to save whales in distress, Mr Sawyer said.
"I don't want to lose a whale, not to bureaucracy or protectionism,” Mr Sawyer said.
"We are now the whale capital. If we do not have a rescue group here, we will destroy all the benefits of what we've done to attain that title.”
The DES spokesperson did not respond directly to the idea of an independent whale rescue team being created in Hervey Bay.
They emphasised the safety concerns behind dealing with these large mammals.
"Community members who want to help or move a stranded marine mammal must follow the directions of authorised rangers and trained responders,” the spokesperson said.
"This is for their safety and for the welfare of the animal.”
Mr Sawyer is not alone in his desire to see Hervey Bay treated differently when it comes to whale welfare.
Yvonne Miles, an experienced Hervey Bay marine biologist, said all the skills and expertise needed to complete a whale rescue could quickly be found in the region.
Hervey Bay is not like other places on Australia's coast, Ms Miles said.
It is a city built largely around whales, with local experts dedicating their entire lives to studying and understanding the great creatures.
While she supported the law against members of the public touching or interfering with whales, she said those with the right training and know-how should be empowered to do more.
As the official world whale capital, Ms Miles said, Hervey Bay had a responsibility to "step up” and be proactive about caring for the marine marvels that grace our waters each year.
Ms Miles offered a scenario where a team of Hervey Bay-based experts, including herself, a veterinarian and experienced members of the whale-watching fleet, could be on-call, ready to respond and carry out a whale rescue.
The DES spokesperson said, because marine mammals stranded for a number of reasons, including "misadventure and poor health”, each stranding required "requires a well-planned response by experienced rangers and marine veterinarians.
Ms Miles agreed that members of the public should only intervene under expert guidance.
She argued, however, the experts did not have to come from QPWS.
As Ms Miles pointed out, Hervey Bay's World Whale Heritage status is not a permanent recognition.
It will be regularly reviewed and could be taken away if the city does not take a proactive approach to whale research, conservation and tourism.
And what could be more proactive, Ms Miles asked, than utilising local expertise to rescue stranded whales?