Elusive whale stranded near beach in coastal Athens

A beaked whale is trapped off the shore of the suburb of Alimos, in Athens, Greece, January 28, 2022. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Rescuers on Friday were trying to free a beaked whale which has surfaced in Greek waters, trapped near a beach on the Athens riviera, officials said.

The coast guard, veterinarians, volunteers and environmental groups were working to record its injuries, diagnose any illness and help free the mammal which has reached a beach near the coastal suburb of Palaio Faliro, floating at a depth of about three metres.

According to Arion, a Greek non-governmental organisation that provides first aid for stranded whales and dolphins, the 3.5 metre-long whale first appeared in another coastal area nearby on Thursday. It appeared uninjured at that time and was helped to swim away to open sea.

But it returned, running aground again this morning at Flisvos in Palaio Faliro, with what appeared to be injuries to its beak, said Aimilia Drougas, oceanographer and co-founder of Arion.

Experts were checking if there were reasons that prevented it from swimming off, she said.

Beaked whales, an endangered species, are deep divers, and can reach depths of up to 3,000 metres. They live and reproduce in Greek seas but rarely reach shallow waters.

“It is very rare for this species. It is a very shy animal, that does not approach people and favours great depths,” Drougas said, adding that its injury may be surfacial.

Whales are often struck by ships, as their lanes overlap and the volume of shipping traffic and the speed of vessels has been growing over the past decades. The mammals are often unable to avoid a collision in time and are often disoriented by underwater noise.

Every year about 10-15 beaked whales get stranded.

Deputy Environment Minister George Amyras, who had reached the scene, said a vet has taken a blood sample from the whale which will be sent to a lab. “The prognosis is not good,” he said.

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