Helicopter saves whale from shark

TIM CARRIER
Last updated 12:58 15/08/2014

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A pilot has used his helicopter to scare a shark away from a calving whale in Cowaramup, south of Perth.

Sean Blockside was up on a flight with his mate Brett Campany from Wild Blue Helicopters to take some aerial photos of the region yesterday.

"As we flew by the Wilyabrup Cliffs I spotted what looked like a very, very big fish from that high up," he said.

This big fish turned out to be a southern right whale, and Blockside said he thought it was trying to give birth because of how close it was to shore.

"I'd seen another whale doing the exact same thing in the exact same spot about a month earlier," he said.

However, just as they flew overhead, Campany spotted a 3-4m shark cruising along the beach heading straight for the calving whale.

"Brett just made a decision to drop the helicopter above the ocean and herd the shark back out to deeper water," Blockside said. 

"I'm all for letting nature do its thing but it would have sucked for the whale to have gone through 12 months of gestation only to have its baby gobbled up on birth." 

The plan worked, with the shark beating a swift retreat once the helicopter closed in, which Blockside put down to Campany's expert piloting.

"Don't underestimate the herding capability of an R44 [Robinson 44 helicopter] - that shark spun around and swam off so fast it would have won Olympic gold in the 1500 metres," Blockside quipped.

He said after they had scared the shark off, Campany was mindful of not scaring the whale so they landed just above the beach so they could watch quietly as the whale gave birth.

"We could literally hear her [the whale] heaving and breathing in the surf and all the while we were just hoping the shark had stayed in deeper water."

But, then things took another interesting turn with the arrival on the scene of some more ocean dwellers.

"While we debated the pros and cons of getting back up in the air a dozen or more dolphins arrived to encircle the calving whale and protect her.  

Blockside said after this they decided to let nature take its course and leave the dolphins to "manage the maternity ward for the night" while they headed back to Cowaramup for the sunset.

He described the experience as one of the best in a six-year career in the Margaret River region.

"I gave up an office job six years ago [for this] and I haven't had a single boring day at work in all this time but yesterday will go down as one of my best memories so far," he said. 

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More than 40,000 whales migrate up and down the coast every year, Blockside said.

"Some days we can see as many two dozen whales across the horizon - right here on our doorstep," he said.

- Augusta Margaret River Mail

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