Kadena personnel aid in rescue of stranded whale
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- A battered and bruised whale stranded on the beach April 17, 2017, at Kadena Marina is now in stable condition and under the medical care of the Charumi Aquarium thanks to the efforts of a rescue team of good samaritans, veterinarians, and personnel from the 18th Force Support Squadron and the 18th Security Forces Squadron at Kadena Air Base.
While fishing at Kadena Marina, an Okinawan fishermen spotted a large black object that was moving strangely in shallow water next to a rocky outcrop of beach. The fisherman realized the object was a whale and it was injuring itself against the rocks in the shallow water and signaled for help.
That’s when David Lacar, U.S. Air Force retired Master Sgt., sprang into action. In nothing but his T-shirt and swim trunks, the surf instructor donned gloves and leapt into the water.
“I could tell that the mammal was bleeding a lot,” Lacar said. “There was a lot of blood in the water and it kept bashing itself against the rocks. Rather than let it continue to injure itself, I gently guided it into deeper water.”
Lacar, who was born and raised in Hawaii, continued to secure the whale in shallow water up to his chest as defenders from the 18th SFS secured the area and coordinated rescue efforts with the local aquarium and law enforcement.
“While I was holding onto it, I could feel its heart beat,” Lacar said. “I counted 80 beats per minute several times, it seemed like a good sign to me.”
Dive instructors and personnel in wetsuits from the 18th Force Support Squadron relieved Lacar after two hours and supported the whale until the veterinarian team was able to arrive.
“Everyone did whatever they could to help,” said Lacar. “Thankfully, those who had the technical expertise were available to us.”
Once on scene, the veterinarians took blood samples, inserted an IV and disinfected the wounds of the dwarf sperm whale. The team, led by Dr. Keiichi Ueda, Okinawa Churashima Research Center manager, immediately arranged for transport to the aquarium due to the extent of injuries and fatigue of the whale.
Four hours had passed when the aquarium’s transportation vehicle arrived and the veterinarians, with help from the divers, maneuvered the whale onto a stretcher. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Oswaldo Cerrato, 18th SFS flight lead and on-scene commander, helped with rescue efforts as the team struggled to carry the 330 pound whale through waist deep water and sand to the vehicle.
“Everyone knew they needed to help,” said Cerrato. “There was no hesitation, I immediately knew I needed to help out.”
Together the makeshift team was able to crane the injured whale out of the water and into the bed of the transport vehicle where the veterinarian team began to pour water onto the whale. However, the vehicle was not able to take off for the aquarium just yet.
According to Ueda, the team had to wait until the whale had stabilized from the movement to begin the 1-hour journey to the aquarium. This particular species of whale was delicate to take care of and had an estimated 20 percent chance of surviving the transport with its current injuries.
For luck, the makeshift rescue team decided to name the whale Marino.
“We had initially named it Marina until we were informed by the doctor that it was a male,” Cerrato said. “I hope that it survives and that we are able to aid in getting it back to freedom. I feel blessed that my career in the Air Force was able to help the community and Mother Nature.”
As soon as the doctor confirmed Marino was breathing normally, the transport vehicle took off for the aquarium. There, the whale is monitored constantly until determined by veterinarians to be stable.
According to a status report received from the Charumi Aquarium, there have only been three reported cases of rearing dwarf sperm whales in Japan and the longest a whale has been held is for one year at Kamogawa Sea World in 2003.
Marino is expected to be released after making a full recovery.