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Three Whales Returned To The Open Sea

June 30, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Three young pilot whales took to the open sea and cavorted with dolphins, delighting scientists who had nursed the mammals back to health in a first-of- its-kind effort to return them to the wild after beaching.

″I think they are doing very well,″ Tim Rumage said Monday night, hours after the whales were released. ″All the signs are good.″

″The animals are doing all the things that we could possibly hope for them to be doing that shows that they are recovered,″ said Rumage, a member of the New England Aquarium Stranding Team.

On Tuesday, radio operators were unable to track the whales, but contact with the aquarium research vessel was also sporadic. Aquarium officials said the radio transmittiers attached to the whales are not as the attached satellite tags, so a lack of signal may not mean the transmitters were lost or destroyed.

While radio contact is supposed to be constant as long as the whales are on the ocean surface, satellite contact occurs only a few times a day because of the satellite’s location in space. The next satellite signals were expected late this afternoon.

The jet-black, 1,000-pound, 2-year-old whales dubbed Notch, Baby and Big Brute - also known as Tag - were released earlier about 115 miles from Boston’s New England Aquarium after a trip aboard the 187-foot Albatross IV.

The whales quickly joined a group of dolphins and began swimming on their backs and corkscrewing through the water, officials said. The trio soon joined a group of humpback whales and swam seaward, with the Albatross following about a quarter-mile behind.

″The fact that all three of them are together, they’re moving well through the water, they’ve got good body angles and positions, they’re diving well, all those are things we want to see in these animals,″ said Rumage.

Researchers said they could recall no other such effort to rescue, raise and return three whales to the sea.

The three calves were among about 50 whales that beached on Cape Cod in December. About two dozen died, but researchers and volunteers shoved the rest back into the water and they are presumed to have survived.

Scientists attached transmitters to the three whales so they can be tracked. They hope the animals will join a herd, or pod, of about 100 others in the area. The calves’ fate will help scientists determine whether they should interfere in future beachings, in which whales overheat and suffer severe internal injuries from the crush of their own weight.

Aquarium Director John Prescott said the mission was more an endeavor to learn about whales and their lives at sea than a life-saving operation.

″It’s not a practical way to return whales to the wild. I don’t see us doing this every year,″ he said in a ship-to-shore interview.

Scientists had planned to gently return the whales to the ocean by letting them acclimate themselves in a 22-foot-square, 6 1/2 -foot-deep pen, but a wave defeated them.

Notch was being lowered into the ocean in a basket when the animal was washed into water outside the pen. The whale appeared unharmed and swam beside the research vessel while it cruised slowly over 4- to 5-foot waves on a humid, sunny day.

A short while later, Baby and Big Brute were lowered into the open water. They ″immediately linked up with Notch,″ said Mimi Simpson, an aquarium employee aboard an observation vessel.

The ship will track them until its return to port Thursday, after which satellites and occasionally planes will provide the monitoring for a month.

Whales are highly social animals and researchers considered it critical that the three join a large pod. If the pod rejects the whales, scientists hope the calves can survive on their own, said aquarium spokeswoman Sandra Goldfarb.

The three calves, which were deemed too young and weak to survive the beaching in December, were trucked to the New England Aquarium, where they were held in a 60,000-gallon pool shielded from human distractions. Aquarium employees fed, massaged and exercised them.

A fourth rescued whale refused to eat, and was given a lethal injection.

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