People all across the country heard about the pod of pilot whales that beached themselves on St. Simons Island last week.
Viral videos of this peculiar incident caught the eyes of millions on social media, quickly spreading across the state and eventually making national news outlets.
But for Liz Secrest, who was far out in the ocean enjoying the low tide at Massengale Beach when the whales arrived just after 6 p.m., the scene was a bit more chaotic. When she first spotted two of the mammals, she didn’t immediately know that they were pilot whales.
“I thought they were dolphins at first,” Secrest said. “But then, the gentleman next to me said ‘I don’t think those are dolphins.’”
The two whales kept getting closer, and eventually swam right beside Secrest and the other man. By this time the crowd on the beach began to notice what was going on.
Liz’s father, David, was also on the beach at the same time. He recognized that these were pilot whales, and that they were known for trying to beach themselves.
“I went out into the shallow water and was the first person there that I know of who said that these animals were not porpoises or dolphins but probably pilot whales, known for trying to beach themselves, and that they should be helped and turned back,” David K. Secrest said.
After getting tangled up in one bystander’s dog leash, he went back to his chairs on the beach to call 911.
Another man began to take charge, urging Liz Secrest and others nearby try and manually redirect them or else the whales would end up dead on the beach.
Liz Secrest had never really heard of pilot whales before, so the sight of them up close was exciting. However that excitement merged with the natural apprehension of physically touching marine life, especially ones that are in danger.
“I was a little reticent touching the wales,” she said. “It probably wasn’t good that humans were touching them, but we had to save them.”
Together with the help of those out in the water, they held the whales’ head and tail and turned it around to push it in the direction opposite the beach.
As this was happening, the crowd on the beach observed the ordeal through their smartphone cameras, taking photos and videos. Two lifeguards had come out to assist with the two whales where Secrest was, so many on the beach decided not to get in the water. Others ran up and down the beach as more whales were spotted at different parts of the beach.
Liz Secrest said the two lifeguards that ran out to help her initially said that they had never seen anything like this. It took about 25 minutes before authorities such as the Department of Natural Resources were on the beach to help handle the situation.
The whole experience was “incredible”, according to Liz Secrest. Incredible, if not slightly marred by confusion and pandemonium. She had been on vacation visiting her father who lives on St. Simons, and her encounter with the whales certainly will go down as the highlight of the trip.
She even has a trophy of sorts to remember it by.
“One of the whales hit me on my right shin, and I still have the bruise,” Secrest said. “It’s like a badge of honor.”