MUSSELBURGH will host a major training exercise for whale rescue volunteers tomorrow (Saturday) – using inflatable versions of the mammals!

Up to 70 recruits from the marine mammal rescue charity British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) will be testing their skills in a whale ‘mass stranding’ scenario.

The exercise will involve several life-size inflatable models of pilot whales being stranded on the beach at Fisherrow Yacht Club and volunteers invited to rescue them in simulated conditions.

Dan Jarvis, BDMLR’s welfare development officer, said: “These exercises don’t happen too often as they’re a huge logistical challenge to set up with getting a large proportion of our rescue equipment resources from around the country in one place at one time.

“However, they are really important and useful to our volunteers. This is for gaining experience, testing their first aid and assessment skills, and particularly for our incident co-ordinators to really get their teeth into taking charge of a situation and organising everything from animal care to emergency services liaison to crowd and media control.”

Britain has seen a rise in mass strandings involving pilot whales in recent years, with one of the largest incidents involving more than 70 animals in the north of Scotland. There are various reasons why mass strandings can occur including: a sick or injured animal inadvertently leading the others ashore as they try to help it; being frightened by loud underwater noises such as sonar or explosions; or simply from coming into intertidal areas and becoming disoriented in an unfamiliar habitat.

It is not just pilot whales that can strand in groups like this though as only a year ago there was a mass stranding of up to 20 common dolphins in Cornwall, while more recently three harbour porpoises live stranded in the Solway Firth.

Corinne Gordon, BDMLR’s area co-ordinator for the Edinburgh region, added: “I’m really looking forward to taking on this challenge and seeing how we perform not only as individuals but working together as a team.

“This is one of the amazing things about this charity, in that as trained volunteers we can still essentially be strangers to one another but when called upon in a real-life situation we come together to achieve what is best for these enigmatic creatures.”

Members of the public who find a live stranded dolphin or whale should call BDMLR’s 24-hour emergency hotline 01825 765546.