A young orca has been returned to the open sea after becoming stranded on Orkney, making it the first successful operation of its kind in the UK.
Conservationists from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) were called to the Bay of Newark near Tres Ness, Sanday this morning to reports of a stranded dolphin.
However upon arrival, teams were stunned to find a young orca, aged between three to four-years-old, lying in the surf on the coastline.
Following assistance from nearby residents, the orca was returned to the waves, in what is understood to be BDMLR’s first successful refloat of an orca.
The killer whale, stretching around 11 ft in length, was first spotted by local residents Colin and Heather Headworth from their home, who contacted fellow Sanday resident and BDMLR area coordinator Emma Neave-Webb who scrambled a team to the coast.
As the tide came, the team put out a shout to local residents for more manpower to help set about up-righting the animal to aid breathing and ensure its blowhole was out the water.
Medics were able to rotate the whale to face the incoming sea before placing it on a dolphin stretcher where it started to lift its head clear to breathe and show signs of being able to hold itself upright.
Moments later, the stranded whale made haste for the open water.
A spokesman from BDMLR explained: “After about an hour and with help from local residents to stabilise the animal, it suddenly took matters into its own fins and made a move to swim off.
“Unable to hold the animal any longer, the stretcher was lowered and the orca swam forward straight out towards the open sea.
“It rolled a couple of times and then submerged and continued straight out away from the beach without looking back.
“After monitoring for an hour, medics were confident the animal was no longer in the location and are hopeful it will stay out. We will be monitoring the coast over coming days just in case.”
Orcas are a common sight around Orkney. On Christmas Day, the North Isles 27s pod were seen nearby off Elsness, Sanday hunting seals.
Officials of the national conservation charity, formally formed in 1988, thanked teams for their efforts in the successful operation.
A spokesman added: “We’d like to thank medics Russell Neave and Imogen Sawyer, and Sanday residents Colin and Heather Headworth, Cath Swift and Simon Oldfield, Anna Halford and Martin Sawyer for all your assistance as well as HM Coastguard for advice.
“Also, a huge thanks to everyone who has supported us recently and enabled us to purchase much needed dolphin stretchers. This was their first outing and highlighted how important this kit is. We really would not have been able to refloat an animal of this size without them.”
The Orkney branch of the charity have launched a JustGiving page to help raise £2,000 towards more personal safety equipment.
More than £1,200 has so far been raised; 60% of their desired total.