NY Daily News - December 27, 2012by Henrick Karoliszyn AND Larry Mcshane
The 40-foot whale might be pregnant. First responders keep water on the bleeding, flailing giant as experts from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation race to help.
The thought of another loss in Breezy Point was too much for Diane Bassolino to swallow.
The Queens mom, joined by her family, neighbors and local firefighters, battled Wednesday to save the life of a beached 60-foot whale found struggling in the sand. “There was just so much devastation this year,” said DianeBassolino after using a water bucket to keep the creature hydrated. “We just wanted to see something survive.” The giant blue-grey finback, bleeding from its mouth and tail, fought for its life as the beachfront enclave did its best to soothe the stranded beast.
The best-case scenario was for the tide to float the seriously-ill whale out to sea and into better health — although the odds were against its recovery. “It’s severely emaciated,” said Kim Durham of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, a Long Island rescue and research facility. “We don’t think it will make it,” she warned. “We’re going to let nature take its course.” Experts theorized the whale, an endangered species which would typically weigh about 60 tons, was injured by a ship and never recovered before washing ashore in the hours after Christmas. “New York Harbor is like a four-lane highway, so it could have been struck,” Durham said.
But Breezy Point residents, already scarred this year by fire and flood that destroyed dozens of homes, were rooting for the whale to provide a happy ending to a difficult 2012. “We wanted to save the whale,” said Louis Bassolino, 66, who was hunting for a boat lost in Hurricane Sandy when he came upon the beached finback.
He initially thought the beast was a capsized craft until he came closer — and spotted its huge tail flapping in the surf. Bassolino quickly woke his family before calling the local NYPD and FDNY. Wife Diane and daughter Deirdre, 23, were soon tossing buckets of water on the weakened beast.
“We didn’t know what to do,” said Deidre. “I was shocked. I never saw anything that big wash up before. We just wanted to help. We went out there and lo and behold — there’s a whale.”
The Bassolinos worked as a team for about an hour before police and firefighters arrived to pump water on the whale. The Long Island experts were then summoned to the shore to take a look.
“Just seeing it there, it was helpless and injured,” said Louis Bassolino. “It was sad.” Ed Manley, 50, was among the other volunteer rescuers trying to keep the whale from succumbing. Its tail moved sporadically in the grey morning, offering a hint of its power.
“It’s a beautiful whale,” said Manley. “It’s a shame. I hope we can save her.” Plumber Paul O’Donnell, 50, rushed to the beach after seeing helicopters in the winter sky above. “I’ve never seen a whale like that,” he said. “A day after Christmas, that’s pretty wild.”
The finback — second in size only to the blue whale — is an endangered species that can grow to 70 feet in length and 70 tons in size. It also features the deepest voice of any animal on earth. When healthy, the massive whale can still hit speeds of 35 mph and cruise at about 14 mph. Riverhead rescue director Durham planned to stay at the beach until the whale’s situation is resolved.
A necropsy was planned if the whale can’t survive. The tide starting coming in as the sun went down over Breezy Point. “This animal has not been fed in a long time,” she said. “It’s a very sick whale. It’s on its last legs.” It was unclear if the whale was a male or a female.
Louis Bassolino, after surviving the fierce hurricane and its aftermath in Breezy Point, said the tale of the whale seemed like just another day at the beach. “Nothing surprises me any more,” said Bassolino, “The last year has been crazy around here. Who expected to see a whale after Christmas?”