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40th Anniversary of whale stranding

Date:  12 March 2010

18 March 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the stranding of 59 sperm whales on the northern end of Wainui Beach, Gisborne. To recognise the event Department of Conservation (DOC) have organised a free viewing of the historic footage of the stranding.

DOC Ranger, Jamie Quirk says the whale stranding was a historical event captured on Super 8mm film by Mr Mike Hollands, rediscovered in 2002 and transferred to video by Mr Gerry Huberts. The 40th anniversary is timely to also acknowledge the event which led to the passing of the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.

“The 18 minutes video of the 1970 whale stranding will be playing at the HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne on the 40th anniversary, Thursday, 18 March starting at 10.00 am and at intervals throughout the day. Anyone interested in purchasing the DVD these are available from HP Production, Tauranga.”

“We are also very keen to locate any photos taken at the time that people may have in their photo albums or perhaps someone filmed it. This information is a valuable record so we are really interested to get as much of this material as possible” says Mr Quirk.

In the early hours of Thursday, 18 March 1970 59 sperm whales lost their sense of direction and stranded in shallow water along Wainui Beach. The whales were buried in nearby sand dunes by the Ministry of Works using heavy machinery, working long hours shifting sand and whales. Some larger whales required cutting in half to fit in the grave, and were buried side by side and sprayed with chemical to speed up the decomposition.

There was much controversy at the time as some people tried to remove body parts from the whales, in some cases, while the animals were still alive. These actions contributed to legislation with the passing of the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 which makes it an offence to harm or harass a marine mammal whether it is alive or dead.

Later the area was fenced and planted with trees and shrubs. At the site signs and photos describing the event of 18th March 1970 have been erected. The Heritage Committee also erected a sign telling the story of the whale stranding as early as 1883 near Tuahine Point.

The Whale Stranding at Wainui Beach, Gisborne DVD can be purchased from HP Production, Tauranga + 64 7 544 9147 or e-mail: gh.huberts@xtra.co.nz.