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Boat Carrying Whales Heads For Sea

June 29, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Three young pilot whales saved from a near-suicidal beaching off Cape Cod in December left the New England Aquarium on Sunday and headed back to the open sea aboard a 187-foot boat.

Officials have tentatively decided to free the young whales near a pod - or group - of whales off Chatham Monday morning in the hope the group will adopt the three orphans, said aquarium spokeswoman Sandra Goldfarb.

If the calves’ return to the ocean is successful, it will be the first time more than one whale was released back to its natural habitat after being saved from beaching. Whales usually die in beachings when they overheat and suffer severe internal injuries from the crush of their own weight without the buoyancy of water.

The Albatross IV departed Sunday night from Fish Pier in Boston Harbor for an area near Georges Bank, about 70 miles east of Chatham, where the pod was sighted by an aerial survey.

A report of another pod 35 miles off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H., was disregarded because its existence could not be verified, and returning Notch, Baby and Big Brute to the sea as quickly as possible was a priority, Ms. Goldfarb said.

If another pod is found closer than the group spotted off Chatham the Albatross would change course and head for that group.

″They will try to release them after sunup,″ Ms. Goldfarb said. ″They want the light so that they will be able to follow them in the boat and airplane.″

The calves would spend less time out of the water if they were taken aboard the 187-foot Albatross to the closest pod. But scientists were unsure if the closest pod was large or social enough to take in the calves, said John Prescott, executive director of the New England Aquarium.

If either of the pods rejects the calves, scientists hope it will allow them to follow behind. If total rejection occurs, they hope the calves can survive on their own, said aquarium spokeswoman Sandra Goldfarb.

″We have a lot to learn from this,″ she said.

Carrie Vanderstadt, a lab assistant at the aquarium, said the whales would feel some stress during the move, since they have become accustomed to their temporary home in the tank.

But she said scientists were optimistic about the move and were anxious to get the whales back into the sea.

The largest of the 2-year-old, half-ton whales was outfitted with a satellite tag, allowing scientists to track the whales. It is designed to fall off after about six months, said Ms. Goldfarb.

The fate of the calves will determine if scientists should interfere in future beachings, Ms. Goldfarb said.

Theories abound on why whales beach en masse, but Ms. Goldfarb said the December beaching seems to confirm the basis of one theory: that if whales are feeding in a shallow area, as they were in December, they instinctively swim in-shore in the event of something such as sudden bad weather.

More than 50 whales beached in December. More than 25 died, while others were guided successfully back into the ocean.

Notch, Baby and Big Brute were nursed back to health at the aquarium but another calf died.

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