Reducing dangers for whale rescuers

Large whale disentanglement teams fight to free trapped whales.
Large whale disentanglement teams fight to free trapped whales.

Mr De Barros, in collaboration with Perth Advocates for the Earth, will present Project Whale Rescue, at The Irish Club in Subiaco, on Friday, November 8.

Project Whale Rescue aims to raise funds for the computer software for a simulator, which will be used to train large whale disentanglement teams in Australia and around the world.

DPaW Large Whale Disentanglement Response team leader Doug Coughran, who featured in Mr De Barros’ 2009 production Whale Patrol, said rescue teams were often put in challenging and dangerous situations as they attempted to free the stressed animals.

‘What you’re dealing with is a 40,000kg animal ” if you do something that triggers a reaction from that animal it can be game over. You need the knowledge and skills to rescue them,’ Mr Coughran said.

‘One of the biggest misconceptions is that the whale understands what’s going on when it’s being rescued, but they don’t; you risk being perceived as predator.’

The simulator will provide real case scenarios, where rescuers will have to factor in aspects such as the whale’s behaviour, swell and what equipment to use before they attempt to cut the whale free.

Mr Coughran has been rescuing whales in the southern and northern hemispheres for the past 30 years and said the simulator will be a breakthrough training tool, not only in Australia, but also in less experienced countries, which don’t have the same resources available to them.

‘The objective is to protect the welfare of the men and women who risk their lives to save whales caught in entanglements at sea so they make it home to their families, at the end of the day,’ he said.

In 2011, Mr Coughran attended the Second International Whaling Commission Workshop on welfare issues associated with the entanglement of large whales.

He presented a ‘proof of concept’ demonstration of the Project Whale Rescue prototype to a group of whaling experts at the workshop, which John Welsh from the Serious Games Consultancy (video game-based and simulation training for work places) helped to create after he watched Whale Patrol.

The response was enthusiastic and the committee reported that while simulation programs can’t replace training on the sea, they can be a valuable supplement and they strongly encouraged further development of the program.

Mr De Barros and Mr Welsh have since being trying to raise funds so they can produce a detailed prototype of Project Whale Rescue.

They are now hoping to use Pozible, a crowd funding platform, to attract funding for the prototype.

An educational version of the simulator will also be released to the public to improve their understanding of the reality about whale disentanglement operations.

Mr De Barros said Project Whale Rescue ultimately aimed to improve the welfare of large whales caught in entanglements at sea.