Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Helpers guide
whales out to sea

Several people help 2 whales
stranded on Maui swim to safety

By Gary T. Kubota

KIHEI >> Greg R. Monk was having a cup of coffee at Maui Espresso in South Maui at about 6:30 a.m. yesterday when a former roommate mentioned that a whale and its calf were stuck on the shore at Kamaole II Beach Park.

Monk said he walked to the beach, where there were tourists.

"Nobody was doing anything but taking pictures," he said. "I put my coffee down, took off my slippers and said, 'Come on, you guys, let's help the animals.'"

He and several visitors helped the pygmy sperm whale and her calf back into the water. About 45 minutes later, the two swam away after being led back into open ocean.

Monk, 32, a dive guide for Ed Robinson's Diving Adventure, said he has been involved in a couple of whale rescues in Santa Barbara and a previous one on Maui, but the sensation he got this time was extraordinary.

He said at one point, as he lifted the 300-pound sperm whale to guide it into waist-high water, he cradled it in his arms and felt its heart beating.

"That was an awesome part," he said.

Monk said the mother seemed very responsive and wanted to get back into the ocean.

"Sometimes they make mistakes like we do," he said. "She kind of gave me the impression, 'Oops, help me out here.'"

Monk said he and the visitors tried three times before the mother found her way to sea.

He said the 60-pound calf, which was about 2 weeks old and still had its umbilical cord, was then led out into open water to reunite with its mother.

"They just had to get back into the water to swim and get moving forward," Monk said. "It seems the baby was really disoriented. They just made the wrong turn and needed assistance."

Pacific Whale Foundation official Greg Kaufman said it was fortunate that Monk acted quickly to help reorient the animals toward the sea.

"Whales are primarily swimmers, and beachings can have a devastating effect on their internal organs," Kaufman said.

Kaufman said the beaching of the whales yesterday was the third marine mammal stranding in Kihei since April -- a number that is "unusually high."

Kaufman said some visitors at Papawai Point reported a sighting of a distressed mother and calf Monday.

"This is likely the same pair," he said. "When deep-water cetaceans are distressed, they can sometimes be seen lingering near shore where fewer predators are found."

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