Researchers erupted in cheers Wednesday after a killer whale that spent an afternoon stranded on sharp rocks off B.C.’s north coast managed to swim free.

Someone spotted the young orca crying out from the shore in Hartley Bay in the afternoon. The tide was heading out and it was clear the animal couldn’t make her way back into the water.

“It was so emotional,” said Janie Wray of Cetacealab, a local research facility. “You know, your heart just ached for her.”

A group of concerned onlookers, researchers and First Nations Guardians quickly gathered to help out. Wray said they called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for advice, but were told the only course of action was to keep the whale cool and wet.

“Unfortunately, the sun was just breaking through the clouds so we knew she was in for a really bad day,” Wray said.

The group fastened a water pump using some hoses and duct tape, gathered buckets and towels and worked for more than seven hours soaking the whale.

Wray said the orca, which appears to have become stuck while hunting seal with her family, initially seemed anxious about their presence, but calmed down eventually.

“She finally closed her eyes and she seemed to recognize that we were trying to help her,” Wray said. “She was so patient. She just waited and waited.”

When the tide started coming back in hours later, the whale inched her way back into the waves and swam off, to everyone’s relief.

The young trooper might not be in the clear yet, however.

Dr. Martin Haulena of the Vancouver Aquarium said it’s possible the orca suffered internal injuries during the long stretch on the jagged rocks.

“These guys are just never designed to be on land whatsoever, and the bigger you are the more pressure there is on muscles, on lungs,” Haulena said. “I can imagine just a very painful experience for the whale.”

Haulena said the people who responded did a great job taking care of the animal, but it’s possible she had poor circulation while stranded and may have suffered kidney damage.

“Unfortunately it’s just never a good thing for an animal like this to be out of the water for any period of time so I do worry about what’s in store,” he said.

Wray said local researchers are familiar with the whale and her family, and will be checking back on her health in the coming days.

“We’re hoping that she’s OK,” she said.