By Muguntan Vanar
SEMPORNA, Sabah - Tourists and villagers rescued a whale after it got into shallow waters close to Sabah's famed Sipadan island.
Quick-thinking and ingenuity by the rescuers helped float the stranded 3.5m rare pygmy sperm whale back into the Celebes Sea at the state's east coast.
The whale resurfaced twice before disappearing into the blue ocean as tears of joy flowed freely among the tourists, tour operators and villagers at Pulau Mabul after the 25-minute rescue at about 9am on Wednesday.
The mammal was first spotted at about 8am by chalet staff of Borneo Divers who informed staff of Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort as their boats were available.
Scuba Junkie resort manager Carys Fox immediately launched the rescue with many of the tourists accompanying them to help save the whale.
"It was like the whale knew that we were trying to save her.
"She was flapping around in distress in the shallow water but when we arrived she calmed down," Fox said.
The group placed life jackets under the whale to create buoyancy and give rescuers a chance to lift and guide the mammal towards deeper waters.
"The whale allowed us to work around it and was calm," said Fox.
Scuba Junkie marine biologist Ric Owen said the whale had suffered some superficial wounds and would heal quickly.
Sabah Environmental Protection Association committee member Daniel Doughty, who was involved in a similar operation to rescue a Bryde whale off Kota Kinabalu in 2007, said sperm whales were a rare sighting.
Semporna District Officer Ibnu AK Baba thanked the diving and local communities in Mabul and hoped that the experience would lead to better collaborative management and protection of marine conservation since Semporna is not only a major diving destination but also within the coral triangle initiative.