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Brunei animal lovers guide stranded whale back home
By M K Anwar

13th May 2003

Borneo Bulletin

Bandar Seri Begawan - Animal lovers and environmentalists will be relieved to hear that all has ended well for the whale that was stranded for 17 hours in the shallow waters off Pulau Pelumpong since Sunday morning when four concerned members of the public assisted it in returning to the deep waters of Brunei Bay and then back to the deep yesterday.

The story began when workers from a fish farm near Pulau Pelumpong discovered something out of the ordinary when they inspected their catch for the day in one of their fishing structures traditionally called 'lintau'. A large whale was stuck in the shallow waters of the island, trapped by the net. It was about 6 am Sunday morning and they quickly informed their employer.

Mr Morris, a well-known diver with vast knowledge about sea creatures, told the Bulletin yesterday how he, with help from others, coaxed the large whale back to safety. At the time he was island hopping when a friend informed him about the stranded whale close to a fish farm nearby. As a profound nature lover, he decided to take a look.

It took him and his wife a while to locate the area where he saw two fishermen splashing their boat paddles in the water near a large 'object' as if trying to move it away. It was then that they saw the whale. Slowly and carefully he maneuvered his 20-foot boat nearer to the whale. "The whale was very long," he said and added it was longer than his boat. Judging from the size of the whale, he estimated that it could weigh up to 10 tones.

"It's not a Minke whale actually," he clarified. The type of species that was found stranded yesterday is actually a Bryde's Whale. This species is classified as "Balaenoptera edeni". The distinctive feature of this whale is the three head ridges extending from the blowholes to the end of the rostrum.

Mr Morris jumped into the water and started stroking the large mammal gently to calm it down. Two other fishermen then joined in to pacify the agitated animal. Mr Morris was shocked to find that someone had tied a rope around the whale's tail.

This rope, he said, was the cause of the whale's severed tail, which had sent the poor aquatic creature into a state of distress and great pain. He slowly cut off the rope and with the help of his wife and the two fishermen he carefully pushed the whale so that it faced the deep waters. Past experience had taught Mr Morris the correct way to help stranded whales.

As the belly of the whale was still touching the shallow part of the island they had to wait for the tide to come in. It was then that the whale managed to swim forward into the deeper waters.

It was heartbreaking to see the whale struggling to swim straight as a result of its tail being severed. "The mammal was swimming in circles," Mr Morris said.

Luckily, the whale recovered its composure and orientation and managed to go under the fish farms located nearby and swam away. The fish farms suffered some damage as the whale resurfaced under these farms. Some fish were let loose from the cages.

Mr Morris and the two fishermen had to escort the whale and guide it back into the deep. They turned back after the whale dived into the deep sea and disappeared from sight.

Mr Morris thanked the two fishermen who helped him for over two hours to free the whale. It was certainly well worth the effort in bringing this beautiful creature back to where it belongs.

This incident, he said, also shows that the Brunei waters are clean. No sea animal would come to a dirty and polluted area to feed, he said.

The Bryde's Whale is also protected by the 1986 Moratorium on Whaling. Besides being called a Bryde's Whale, it is also commonly known as Tropical Whale. It can be found in the tropical or subtropical waters where the temperature is more than 20 degrees Celsius. A fully-grown adult Bryde's Whale can weigh up to 20 tones.