Helpers taking care of a stranded whale with WAP.
Instruction for turning the stranded whale upright.
WAP prevents internal injuries and stabilizes the whale.
An inflated tent keeps the whale cool and moist.
With WAP, stranded whales begin to float much earlier and can be returned to the ocean without harm.
What it does
Thousands of whales beach every year in New Zealand. Although the whales are healthy, only a few can be saved. WAP helps in stabilizing, cooling, and transporting the beached whales back to the sea to act more efficiently and prevent mass extinction.
Normal rescue services like fire brigades have the right equipment for every emergency. But when whales die slowly at beaches, people have to save them with buckets and towels. Many of the 2000 annual beachings end deadly because the rescuers are overwhelmed and not properly equipped. This realization has motivated us to develop a product to save beached whales. Since Farewell Spit in New Zealand is a regular site of mass strandings of pilot whales, we concentrated on this area. Our goal is to support the local rescue teams with our product to save as many whales as possible.
How it works
Pilot whales fall to the side during the stranding. When the tide comes in, their breathing hole is under water, they can’t breathe and drown after only 15 minutes. WAP is placed on both sides of the whale, the mat is rolled out on the belly side and the pontoon on the back side is inflated. This will roll the whale onto its belly. The mat is connected to the inflated pontoon. The second pontoon is inflated and tightens everything to stabilize the whale. An inflatable tent protects the whales from the sun and wind. Water is filled into the top grooves to distribute over the whale and keep it cool and moist. Blankets cover the sides and soak water from the top. The passing wind cools down the air and comforts the whale. WAP helps the stranded whale to float earlier in coming high tide. This saves time and manpower when dragging the whale into deeper waters. When the time is right, the air is released and the pneumatic connection opens underneath the whale.
To test the feasibility of our idea, we did a lot of research on compressed air and whale strandings. We found out that overturned trucks can be straightened up by air cushions. During our research on whale strandings we learned that in New Zealand at Farewell Spit there are regular mass strandings of pilot whales. In order to get more detailed information about the whales and the strandings, we contacted rescue experts form New Zealand and have had a regular exchange since then. With inputs from their experience and knowledge we developed the concept step by step. To get a feeling of the size of a pilot whale, we taped a silhouette on the ground. For the proportions of WAP we worked with cardboard models. We built a prototype in CAD and 3D-printed it on a scale of 1:10. To see how the whale can move, we also moulded a silicone whale. Using sand and water, we were able to stage the process and eliminate any ambiguities.
How it is different
The saving of whales is a rare event. Therefore, to our knowledge, there are hardly any products that are dedicated to this problem. The local organization already built a kind of rubber boat which is placed under the whale and inflated to transport the whale. With their help we have analyzed this process and incorporated it into our concept and developed it even further. WAP is unique because its efficiency and simplicity not only allows more whales to survive, but also gives helpers greater safety and thus physical and mental relief.
The experts from New Zealand helped us a lot in the development with their expertise. In a second iteration, a working prototype could be developed together with them and tested on site. Most whale strandings occur between November and February. The goal is to be ready for a mission at that time in order to learn and test/develop a working prototype.