Dr. Cara Miller, Pacific Islands Program Manager for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society International, joined the rescue team in Totoya and advised the team on how to lure the whale back to sea. The rescue team made three attempts to help the humpback whale, but could not lead Ravouvou ni Toba, or “Prince of the Bay” (affectionately named by the Roko Sau of Totoya), to the opening of the lagoon.
Dr. Miller conducted an awareness workshop in all four villages on Totoya Island, providing locals with information about humpback whales. If locals understand Ravouvou ni Toba’s lifestyle, they will realize he is not accustomed to being trapped in a lagoon, and will be careful not to disturb him.
Dr. Miller provided the following recommendations to protect both the whale and the villagers:
- No one should be in the water, because it confuses the whale and is dangerous for both the villagers and the whale.
- People should not chase the whale or motor quickly towards the whale. This increases stress for the whale and causes the whale exert extra energy that it needs for its journey back to the Antarctic.
- Boats should only use the specified openings to enter and exit the reef. The experts hope that the whale will realize this is the way to leave the lagoon.
- There should be no more than two boats inside the reef, unless the boats are involved in a rescue effort.
- Rubbish should not be thrown into the water.
- Rescue efforts should follow a plan, involve good communication, and have someone overseeing human and whale activity to ensure the best chance of success and the safety of everyone.
Dr. Miller also provided villagers with several options for guiding the humpback whale out of the lagoon:
- Rescuers can have a single boat sit in the opening of the lagoon and try to have the whale follow it out of the lagoon. The boat may drive repeatedly in and out of the opening.
- Rescuers can put up a fence that will help guide the whale to the proper exit. Rescuers may use weights so the fence will sink.
- Rescuers can play a humpback whale song at the opening of the reef or just outside of the lagoon to help lure the whale towards the ocean.
Marine mammal specialists note that the humpback whale is well known for slapping the water with its pectoral fins and tail.
Katherine Whitaker, a marine biologist with Monterey Whale Watch, said you can identify humpback whales by their long pectoral fins, which wave out of the water as if to say, Hello everybody. Just stoppin’ in for a cup of kava.
Andrea Bendlin, a marine naturalist in Maui, noted that these whales can go for months without food. They have to when they’re migrating to nutrient-poor warm waters to mate and give birth. In fact, they can live off their thick blubber for about four to five months, so Ravouvou ni Toba still has time to leave the lagoon.
Whales have been in this situation before. Humphrey the humpback whale became disoriented and swam into the Sacramento river – twice.
Another pygmy sperm whale and her calf were stranded on a beach in New Zealand, possibly confused by a large sandbar off the shore. These whales didn’t know what to do until a dolphin swam up to them and led them back to sea.
The Roko Sau of Totoya gathered information from the elders in the village and found that there have been a number of whales trapped in the same lagoon in the past. Although data only reports trapped whales since 1959, whales have most likely faced similar predicaments for as long as they have been swimming in the ocean.