A whale stranded on a Gold Coast beach could again come ashore but rescuers are hopeful it will continue on its annual migration north.
Tacha Mulligan had her hand on heart when the juvenile whale she’d spent 36 hours trying to save finally swam free.
“Once we saw it had cleared the break it was just absolute elation,” the exhausted Seaworld marine animal supervisor told AAP.
The 20-tonne male humpback, thought to be between two and five years old, became stranded on the Gold Coast’s Palm Beach on Tuesday evening.
The fading light made it too risky to try to move it out to sea and rescue attempts the next day failed.
On Wednesday night a group of rogue rescuers tried to float the whale but only managed to turn it around, causing it stress.
Several attempts by rescuers the following day to get it into deeper water failed, including one attempt when the tow rope snapped towards the back of the breakers and the whale ended up back on the sand.
As the animal’s condition continued to deteriorate, rescuers were finally able to successfully tow the humpback out to sea on Thursday morning.
“We all had our hands on our hearts and were just willing this whale forward,” Ms Mulligan said.
Crowds that had formed on the beach cheered as the whale swam free.
The humpback was able to navigate around a sandbar before swimming out to deeper waters to continue its annual migration north to the Great Barrier Reef.
Ms Mulligan said the whale was exhausted and suffering muscle fatigue but it has rapidly gained strength and she’s “cautiously optimistic” it will be OK.
She says it’s possible the whale could again come ashore.
“But we’ve got our fingers and toes crossed that it won’t.”
Ms Mulligan says the experience was one of the most challenging but rewarding in her 20-year career with Seaworld.
“It’s amazing because all of us invest so much of our hearts and soul into this.”