Short-finned pilot whale returns to sea off Hainan

By Chen Bowen in Haikou | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-27 07:35
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The stranded short-finned pilot whale Haitang is transported to a research ship on Saturday and returns to sea at 6:15 am on Sunday. [Photo by Wang Chenglong/For]

After nearly six months of care, a short-finned pilot whale named Haitang was released back into the sea off Hainan province on Sunday.

Haitang was found stranded in Haitang Bay in the city of Sanya on Jan 3 with injuries. Following extensive rehabilitation at the Sanya Haichang Animal Conservation Center, the whale regained its health and was deemed ready to return to the wild.

Under veterinary and expert supervision, the whale's diet increased to 12 kilograms of squid and 2 kg of herring daily. Its body length grew to 3.7 meters from 3.6 meters, and its chest circumference expanded from 1.9 meters to 2 meters.

"Haitang" returns home under drone surveillance, after 145 days in human care. To track and monitor his condition, scientists have attached a device on his back. WANG CHENGLONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

"Squid is crucial for pilot whales," said Cao Zheng, head of the conservation center. "Haitang has honed its hunting skills and should adapt well to the abundant squid population near Sanya."

A specialized monitoring device will track Haitang's movements after release. The team carefully planned the release process, including arranging transport and choosing a suitable location with a history of pilot whale activity. The release site is over 500 meters deep, which suits the needs of the 500-kg whale.

"By releasing Haitang in a familiar habitat with other whales, we hope it can reintegrate successfully and form new social bonds," Cao said.

Short-finned pilot whales are nationally protected second-class wild animals in China.

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