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Unexpected Visitor on Kennedy's Shore
Call it fate, or kismet, or just plain dumb luck, but whatever the reason, everything and everyone came together to save a stranded visitor to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 24.
Beached mellon-headed whale at Kennedy.

Image above: Workers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and representatives from the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute support a stranded melon-headed whale on a sling in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
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Beached mellon-headed whale at Kennedy.

Image above: This close-up shows the stranded melon-headed whale being carried on a sling to a waiting truck. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
› View High-res Image

Beached mellon-headed whale at Kennedy.

Image above: Representatives from the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute calm and care for the stranded whale inside the truck that will take it to Sea World for evaluation. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
› View High-res Image

A rare, melon-headed whale beached itself on the center's east coast, just south of Launch Pad 39A. The helpless whale was alone on the beach, which is unusual for a species associated with mass-beachings. The animal was well above the water line when a worker from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on routine patrol spotted him -- lucky break No. 1.

Thinking quickly, the wildlife service worker called Kennedy's Life Sciences Support and Jane Provancha answered. She was close to the beach working with endangered Scrub jays -- lucky break No. 2.

Provancha and her teammates headed for the shore with a sling and maneuvered the young, male whale back into the water.

"I'm totally soaked, but it was worth it," Provancha said. "He looks good, really good."

Soon after a superficial exam, the science support team contacted Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute biologist, Megan Stolen. Stolen arrived and confirmed the 8-foot-long, 900 pound animal was in stable condition and an excellent candidate for transport to Sea World, Orlando -- lucky break No. 3.

"We don't have a lot of information about melon-headed whales because they live in deep water, well away from the shoreline. This is a great chance to learn more about the species and then return him to the wild -- if he survives," Stolen said.

As new volunteers came forward, teams took turns at 20-minute intervals in the cold surf. They labored in the water for more than four hours waiting for the special transport vehicle. The whale, sensing their good intentions was calm and cooperative.

Finally, the truck arrived and the stranded whale gently was loaded for the ride to receive his veterinary examination and possible treatment.

The rescue was complete.

As the truck pulled away, Stolen said, "You know, out of all the whales rescued only about 5 percent survive. And, out of those survivors, only about 1 percent actually are able to be returned to the wild."

"Tough odds, but I feel pretty good about this guy, he's been lucky so far," Stolen added.

Editor's note: Currently the young, melon-headed whale is undergoing medical treatment and rehabilitation at Gulf World in Panama City, Fla. Hopes are high that he soon will be returned to the wild.

Mary Ann Chevalier
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center