'Amazing' whale rescue off County Down coast

By Niall Glynn

Media caption,
Diver John Lowry said the moment the whale swam away was 'amazing'

A County Down man has described as "amazing" the moment a stranded whale he helped to rescue swam off to safety.

The Minke whale had been stuck on a sandbank close to Newcastle promenade.

John Lowry was driving home from work when he was contacted about the incident, then came across the scene for himself.

He said there was blood in the water and a concerned crowd - including children - looking on when he arrived.

Mr Lowry, a commercial diver, put on his dry suit and told one of the onlookers to phone the Coastguard.

"I said, 'look I've done this before with another stranded whale a few years ago, I've been in the Coastguard for quite some time, even though I'm retired now and also I'm a commercial diver, so I know what I am doing'," he said.

"The first thing I did was to try and get the head of the whale pointed out to sea, so that if I could get him to move that he was going directly out to sea.

"What happens with them is they get mixed up with their navigation - the way these whales work is like a sonar and when they get breached they would just keep swimming into shore, so it was important to get his head turned out to sea.

'One big final kick'

"I just kept working with the whale and trying to push him out.

"Every time a small wave came, it pushed the whale up and I pushed and he finned and it took approximately 10 to 15 minutes," added Mr Lowry.

"He kicked off one big final kick of his powerful tail and away he went and it was great."

Mr Lowry said the moment the whale freed itself was amazing.

"It would have been nice if there had of been somebody there with me to enjoy the experience even more," he said.

"But I was on my own and I was just so glad to see such a beautiful animal get to safety.

"A lot of the people on the beach were very happy - a lot of children were very happy to see it."

Mr Lowry said that while the young adult whale was about six or seven metres long, he never felt in danger during the rescue.

"The main thing is not to go near its fin, it's just such a powerful fin, so I just stayed to the side of him and stayed clear," he said.

Image source, John Lowry
Image caption,
The incident happened close to Newcastle promenade

"I'd advise anybody, if anybody comes across a whale stranded, don't approach it unless you have experience of this kind of thing, because they are very powerful."

He said being so close to such an amazing animal was a fantastic experience.

'Full of air'

"He opened his blow-hole at least three or four times and you could see he was gulping for air and that was good, because then he was filling his lungs up, so that was helping his buoyancy.

"People think 'such a big thing how can he move?' But they're full of air.

"Once you can get that tummy, which is full of fish, off the bottom, it just took a few fins and pointing him in the right direction."

This is John's second whale rescue, having previously taken part in one on nearby Tyrella beach.

He said he was surprised to find out that his latest exploit was all over social media.

"I went for my coffee this morning and I got a bit of stick about it," he said.

"But it was a good outcome."