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It wasn’t an average Monday morning in Tathra this week. Almost 450km from Bondi Beach, the Far South Coast town with a population just under 2,000 had a temporary tourist attraction. ​

In the last 12 months, the Surf Life Saving Far South Coast Support Operations team has been part of a number of beyond the flags callouts, from complex multi-agency search and rescues to assisting Marine Rescue and the SES. The integration of UAVs thanks to the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Drone program into the team’s toolkit has proved invaluable.

When a juvenile whale washed up and became lodged on the rocks at Tathra, the team were called in to help. 

The whale had died before washing into the rocks at Tathra wharf on Monday morning. Far South Coast Director of Lifesaving Cheryl McCarthy recounted the crowds of people gathering at the wharf, “There were people trying to get photos of the carcass. They were walking around on their phones not looking where they were going. It was becoming a real public safety issue that needed to be addressed,” she said. 

After a number of sharks were sighted, a member of the council - a Tathra SLSC member - called up the Far South Coast Support Operations team who responded to close the beach while the council and police closed the wharf. 

Cheryl says after police contacted her team they talked about how they could work together to move the whale. It was decided initially to see if the overnight high tide would dislodge the carcass and move it out to sea. 

On Tuesday morning there was no movement so it was decided that Surf Life Saving assets including a jetski, an IRB and UAV would assist in the removal. 

“We had five members involved in this operation. The Far South Coast Duty Officer was on the jetski with the assistance of two Tathra SLSC members on the IRB and myself piloting the UAV,” said Cheryl. “We met the Police boat on the scene at 9 am where we made a plan to get a tow line in close and pull the carcass free.” 

Tathra Whale

With eyes in the sky, the UAV was able to give the team a comprehensive look at the scope of the carcass helping guide the team as they worked in the water. “The jetski and IRB crew got the tow line in around the tail. They worked for about an hour to secure it before it could be successfully towed out,” said Cheryl. 

After surf lifesavers had the whale free the Police boat towed it to the northern end of Tathra Beach, about three-Kilometres where it was able to be re-towed by the IRB into the beach and removed by an excavator. “Finally,” said Cheryl.

The prompt and successful removal of the carcass was a great demonstration of the productive collaboration between emergency services and Surf Life Saving. “It another good opportunity to work with Police and Maritime to show how effectively we all work together,” said Cheryl. “With all the work we’ve been doing this year with our local emergency services, it shows our skills goes far beyond the flags. We can really make a difference to incidents and it’s great training and experience for our members as lifesavers and in their everyday lives.”

For the lifesavers on the Far South Coast it was another day, another problem solved. “We all feel good to know our skills and abilities are recognised, even in a situation like the removal of a whale carcass,” said Cheryl. “We all train really hard and we train to expect the unexpected.” 

With such a dynamic and expanse of coastline, the team knows that being part of a regional community where resources can be scarce, that if something needs to be done they just need to jump in and do it. “For us to be part of this shows how amazingly versatile and valuable Surf Life Saving is especially in our regional areas.”

Tathra Beach will remain closed for 24 hours. The beach is not patrolled at this time of year and people are advised to stop, think and assess the area before swimming. 

Lifeguard Patrolled Beaches In Winter

  • Byron Main Beach (Far North Coast)

  • Park Beach, Coffs Harbour (North Coast)

  • Nobbys (Hunter)

  • Bar Beach / Cooks Hill (Hunter)

  • Merewether (Hunter)

  • Manly (Sydney Northern Beaches)

  • Bondi (Sydney)

  • Bronte (Sydney)

  • Coogee (Sydney)

  • Maroubra (Sydney)

  • Cronulla (Sydney)

  • North Beach (Wollongong)


Wednesday 28 August 2019