Maybe those five pilot whales rescued us | Editorial

Volunteers carry one of the pilot whales to its rescue. [ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times]
Volunteers carry one of the pilot whales to its rescue. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published Aug. 2, 2019

Maybe those five pilot whales rescued us. It started, as so many emergencies do, with a 911 call. A worried beachgoer reported seeing whales splashing in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico on Redington Beach and spouting through their blowholes. What happened next mattered more than the latest outrageous or outraged tweet or any cutting remark at one of the Democratic presidential debates last week: People came together, they took action, and they fixed a problem. We could use more of that.

Those five whales needed help immediately. A small army of volunteers swung into action alongside marine biologists and veterinarians. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard officers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were all involved.

People set up shades to protect the whales as the searing sun rose high into the sky. Once experts determined the whales were healthy enough to move, the humans teamed up, hefting each one in a canvas sling, more than a dozen people per whale. The three larger whales were taken to deeper, safer waters by boat. The effort lasted 10 hours. The two younger males, simply called A and B, were driven to a Clearwater Marine Aquarium facility in Tarpon Springs for treatment.

By late last week, A and B were well enough to be released, taken 20 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. And by that time, the three older whales had already swum nearly 70 miles southwest. Radio tags will monitor their movements for several weeks.

Whale beachings are rare, and usually don't end well. This one apparently has, and there are lessons.

"Collaboration really works," Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates told reporters at a news conference. "The community really got involved in this. One group can't do this the right way by themselves."

He is right. In a time when people too readily deny science, experts and scientists helped save the day. In an era when people too often distrust each other, volunteers didn't separate into red teams or blue teams. They came together because, as a proverb common across many cultures says, many hands make light work.

"It was really hard work," Thomas Nuhfer, a 27–year–old student from Clearwater who helped carry one of the whales, told the Times. "But it was so great to see people who didn't even know each other come together and work together to help."

Those five whales beached themselves on the shores of Pinellas County. On Nov. 8, 2016, half of Pinellas voters made a different choice than you did. President Donald Trump received 5,500 more votes than Hillary Clinton, but neither candidate broke 50 percent among the nearly half million people who voted. With the polarization of politics in this country, it's too easy for citizens to walk down the sidewalk and count every second person they pass as an enemy rather than a fellow American. Had that happened on Redington Beach, those whales wouldn't be doing swimmingly.

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They would be dead.