Australia Trains Marine Paramedics

Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur press clipping Salawak Tribune 24.12.80, written by Glyn May.

Brisbane, Australia: Volunteer paramedics skilled in the treatment of marine mammals are being trained to save whales and dolphins stranded and injured on Australia’s beaches.

The “sea doctors’ on call 24 hours a day are equipped to treat sun burn, exhaustion, dehydration, psychological stress and infections and administer antibiotics, cortisone or vitamins.

The first six graduates of a special school are busy at present answering distress calls along the southern Queensland coastline while moves are under to spread the program world-wide through the project Jonah an international organisation for the protection of whales and dolphins.

The idea for training the marine mammal paramedics began nearly two years ago during a visit to Queensland representatives of project Jonah to Sea World Australia’s largest oceanarium and Marine Park at Southport on the Gold Coast 75km (47 miles) south of Brisbane the states capital. (Sea World has 22 performing dolphins and 24 sea lions).

PLIGHT

The Project Jonah group although traditionally opposed to the principle of keeping mammals in captivity, discovered that valuable research was being undertaken at Sea World into the plight of the world’s dolphins and whales.

The director of marine mammal shows and training at sea world Mr Howard Kodra formerly of Aqualand, Mystic Island New Jersey United States said “they realised that through our performing

dolphin shows we were making the public more aware of the dolphin’s wonderful affinity for man”.

In an unprecedented move Project Jonah officials in Brisbane then asked Mr Kodra to try to convince their members that his dolphins were happy in captivity.

“I simply told them that our dolphins had given birth to five babies in five years and that I didn’t know of any animals that would breed in captivity if they were unhappy,” he said.

Still sceptical, they went to Sea Word and spent an afternoon on the water playing with the dolphins. And so the Marine Mammal Paramedics Group was born.

Six men so far have been trained several further courses are planned and similar groups are being formed in other Australian states.

The courses at present held at Sea World are spread over 2 weeks and cover lectures on mammals stress and energy levels care and handling physiology, checking blood samples and the use of various

drugs.

The public is encouraged through brochures, the media community organisations to quickly report any whales or dolphins stranding’s. A paramedic goes to the scene immediately (in some areas boats and helicopters have been made available free of charge) and tries to save the mammals life.

Treatment:

Treatment for those than can be saved can vary from first-aid treatment on the beach to a brief rest in a home swimming pool. Those suffering and beyond help are killed quickly and painlessly. Scores of dolphins and whales become stranded and die along the Australian coast each year, probably from parasitic infection or old age, although the precise reasons particularly for mass stranding’s are unknown.

Whatever the cause, stranding is a last resort by an animal nearing the point of physical collapse. As whales and dolphins are air breathers and have negative buoyancy they must swim or sink and

drown or beach themselves. Death for a stranded mammal becomes inevitable through shock and stress brought on by physical factors (pounding surf, sightseers, the weight of its own body), sunburn or rapid dehydration.

The marine Mammal Paramedic brochure advises:

  • Remove the animal from the surf , place it on its side(preferably on an air mattress or foam rubber) making sure the pectorals fins are not bent up under the body.
  • Erect some sort of shade and drape the animal with wet towels or sheets, keeping the skin wet all the times.
  • Ensure that the eyes are not fouled by grit and sand, keep sightseers away.
  • Do not make sudden moves or loud noises, touch the animal as little as possible and speak quietly.
  • Administer about 10cc’s of antibiotics (any good penicillin or ampicillin), then about 10cc’s of cortisone to reduce shock and inflammation, and 10cc’s of vitamin B15 or B complex.
  • Burns should be carefully treated with a mixture of zinc cream and petroleum jelly. Raw lanolin can be applied as an overall body massage.

Howard Kodra during a visit to Sea World, Australia’s largest oceanarium and Marine Park at Southport on the Gold Coast.

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