skip to main content

The special mission of the 18th Division: The salvation of a stranded whale

Category: International Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Corpo de Bombeiros Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Operation: Rescue of a whale

The request for rescue of a Humpback whale came at 6 o'clock in the morning, via telephone, at the Operations Center of the Armação dos Búzios Fire Station, detachment of the 18th Fire Station. A whale stranded for many hours at Rasa Beach (also known as Marina Beach) in the municipality of Armação dos Búzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The military firefighter, Sergeant Leandro immediately informed the on-duty Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Charles who then  contacted some environmental & safety organisations: State Institute of the Environment (INEA), Civil Defence, Secretariat of Environment, Park and Municipal Guards, of the City of Búzios, Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ), and Captaincy of the Ports of Cabo Frio. The officer contacted the CBMERJ Emergency Management Center and the 18th Fire Station Commander - responsible for Cabo Frio, Armação dos Búzios, Arraial do Cabo, São Pedro d'Aldeia and Iguaba Cities.

As the Commander arrived on scene, countless volunteers stood by the whale and into the water, throwing water with hundreds of small buckets to help the whale. At the beginning, a safety perimeter was established by CBMERJ teams- to avoid volunteers to get smashed by the whale and to keep the curious tourists away. After a few minutes on the spot, Ms. Aline Peixoto identified herself as a biologist and representative of the Environment Department of Armação dos Búzios. She reported that the cetacean was a Humpback whale, about 10 meters long and, approximately twenty tons, healthy and originally coming from Antarctica.

Through the biologist, the 18th  Fire Station Commander and the entire CBMERJ team, on scene, analysed the following aspects: 

  1. Positive board schedules for high tides; 
  2. Prevailing current, shoal and curls nearby the cetacean; 
  3. Health conditions of the whale; 
  4. Tensile strength of strings, tubular tapes and belts; 
  5. Quantity and power of tugboats

After the analysis, many operational equipment and resources were used, such as Jet-ski (Water Jet), trailer, search and rescue vehicle, portable radios, ropes, tubular tapes, zebra tapes, ambulance vehicles, emergency medical support. Among the civilian equipment used, there was the support of a hydraulic excavator, three boats, boats of local fishermen, countless buckets, shovels, and hoes from hundreds of volunteers.

In the operational deployment of the 16 military firefighters, the organization was established on 4 tactical flanks, defined as: 

  1. Ground Flank: responsible for the base of operational command & safety of the area (prevention and ambulance service). They provided food to firefighters & communicated with other organisations.
  2. North Sea Flank: composed by CBMERJ Life Guards and jet-ski operators; responsible for the mooring and transport of the tubular tapes and ropes to the vessels, which were 300 meters away from the cetacean. They were responsible to guide vessels on the timing of the "trapping" of these ropes, under the guidance of the commander of the 18th Fire Station, who was next to the biologist receiving technical guidance about physical conditions of the whale.
  3. and 4. East and West Sea Flanks: responsible for passing the tubular tapes under the whale; guided the hydraulic excavator to the site to create "pools", where the whale would be directed after its lifting. They also took care to instruct the volunteers who hydrated and assisted the whale.

Under the guidance of the biologist, East & West Flank teams, the anglers and some civilians, passed the tubular tapes under the whale (at the height of the fins). The curious people were warned not touch the tail, in order to avoid injuries. Some whales with tails injuries are not able to swim anymore and once in the water are dying. 

With the backhoe, "pools" (escape route for the whale to return to the sea) between the whale and the jet-ski were excavated. By manoeuvring the whale to the swimming pools, jet-skiing, boats, military firefighters and the support population that was in the water, managed to make it progress important meters in the water. This operation was being monitored by the positive tide-table that had happened at 04:00 a.m.; but the whale was not able to return to the sea, and the next wave would happen again at 04:11 p.m. 

With the support of the North Sea Flank, the ropes were taken and lashed to the three boats by the jet-ski firefighters who had the support of the fishermen and were communicating via radio with this commander. Closely aligning the actions of lifting after the opening of the "pools", the support of the people pushing the whale and the traction of the ropes, made by the fishermen in the boats. All with extreme care, not to injure the cetacean. 

Around 4 p.m., taking advantage of the positive tide table and great help from the machines & equipment, after some attempts, the whale restored its forces and helped us to complete the brilliant rescue. After ten hours exhausting of exposure to the icy waters, hampered by waves and strong winds, the military firefighters did not back down in the face of adversity. By using the aforementioned resources in an organized and effective manner. The CBMERJ troops were exalted and congratulated by a crowded beach and various means of communication, to achieve the success of the mission to save the Humpback whale, bringing commotion and pride.

The success of this rescue intervention is made by the collaboration of many actors: 

  • The military firemen engaged, because  they knew how to conduct anti-panic control actions, they had zeal with the cetacean and their tireless operability at the limit of favourable high tide
  • Ms Aline Peixoto, because she knew how to pass her technical knowledge, making each action correct and extremely precise
  • The backhoe operator, who was fearless and committed to the life of others
  • Buzios population of Praia Rasa Beach, distinguished volunteers, who made all the difference in their commitment to the life of the whale