Rescue group has a whale of a time.
A two-tonne rubber pilot whale was the star attraction on a blustery coastline yesterday as rescuers braved bracing conditions to practise techniques to save stranded marine mammals.
The water-filled inflatable was receiving the attention of rescuers training to become marine mammal medics as part of a one-day course run by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue group ( a voluntary organisation which trains hundreds of people a year to help rescue injured and stranded seals, dolphins and whales on the British coast.
Yesterday, 24 volunteers took to the waters off Cullercoats harbour to practise an array of techniques aimed at saving marine mammals on the rubber whale as well as a life-like seal and dolphin.
The inflatable mammals were so life-like, passers-by rushed down to offer their help in saving the stranded beasts.
The 24-hour on-call organisation, which was formed by a group of divers in 1988, has had an upsurge in interest through their role in high-profile rescue attempts including that of the bottle-nosed whale which became stranded in the Thames in January.
They were also responsible for the successful release of Marra, the bottle-nosed dolphin, from Maryport harbour in Cumbria. Yesterday volunteers, who ranged from students to barristers, had lectures on marine mammal biology and first aid at Newcastle University's Dove Marine Laboratory, before practising exercises at the harbour as part of an effort to boost the organisation's numbers.
Volunteer Jonathan Rose, of Leeds, said watching the plight of the Thames whale had inspired him to join the group.
The 47-year-old barrister said: "I've been a diver for 15 years and I've always been interested in marine life. I had never heard of the organisation before I saw the rescue of the whale in the Thames.
"I immediately went on the web and looked up what they did. This course has been absolutely brilliant and really informative, and I definitely want to get involved as much as possible."
Newcastle co-ordinator Richard Ilderton said: "The course gives an all-round training in marine mammal rescue which has saved countless creatures.
"The group is entirely voluntary, but we train people so they can handle any situation which they may find or be called out to."
The organisation now has over 3,000 volunteers nationwide including more than 50 in the North-East. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can be trained as a Marine Mammal Medic and no diver training is necessary. Call (01825) 765546.