One of New Zealand’s largest ever pilot whale strandings took place 10-12 February 2017 near Puponga, the most distant settlement on the Golden Bay side of Farewell Spit.

About 200 or more whales died but DOC, Project Jonah, tangata whenua and many volunteers worked strenuously on their recovery over the three days.

Tuesday 7 March

It's thought that up to 50 whales could have washed out to sea from the strandings. About six have washed up on the shore in Golden Bay. One that washed up on Nelson's Tahunanui Beach on Saturday 25 February was removed by DOC rangers.

Dead whales may be buried nearby, moved to an area used for disposal of dead marine mammals or left where they are and secured so they won't float out to sea when not in public areas.

Most dead pilot whales from the Farewell Spit strandings are on the shore but some dead whales drifting at sea could wash up on beaches in Golden and Tasman bays and in western areas of the lower North Island.

Anyone seeing dead whales washed ashore is asked to report it to DOC's 24-hour emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). Rangers will then remove the dead whales or take other appropriate steps.

People should not touch the dead whales for health reasons.

Dead pilot whale on Kapiti Island.
Dead pilot whale washed ashore on Kapiti Island
Images: Manaaki Barrett ©

Dead pilot whale on Kapiti Island.

Wednesday 22 February

The pod of pilot whales involved in the mass strandings on Farewell Spit now appears to have left Golden Bay and is thought to be safely out at sea. No sightings of the whales have been reported in the bay since 14 February. 

All those involved in the epic rescue of the stranded pilot whales can feel proud of what was together achieved by Project Jonah, Whale Rescue and hundreds of other volunteers working with DOC staff. 

We now believe more than 400 whales were successfully refloated with about 200-250 whales dying. It is thought this could be one of the highest numbers of stranded whales rescued in the world.  

There was some confusion about the whale numbers during the strandings due to the large numbers involved but we have since reassessed the whale numbers and revised them to those figures.  

We thank all those who assisted and who otherwise offered us support and goodwill. Most whales being saved is a great result and it couldn’t have been done without the help of so many. 

DOC Director-General Lou Sanson thanks whale stranding volunteers.

Wednesday 15 February

Update 8:30 am

No stranded whales have been found in a search by DOC rangers this morning of Golden Bay coastline on Farewell Spit and down to Collingwood.

It appears the eight whales that stranded yesterday afternoon at Taupata Point, south of Farewell Spit, have refloated in the overnight high tide.

At this time, it is not known where the pod of pilot whales that has been in Golden Bay in recent days is.

DOC staff are ready to respond should there be any further whale strandings in the area.

Tuesday 14 February

Update 5:40 pm

Eight pilot whales have stranded at Taupata Point south of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay this afternoon.

DOC staff and volunteers are keeping the eight stranded whales cool and wet by pouring buckets of water over them but it is not possible to attempt to refloat the whales tonight with the tide currently going out. The next high tide is shortly after 1am but it is not safe to refloat whales during darkness. 

It is hoped the stranded whales will refloat themselves in the overnight high tide. DOC staff will search the coastline early tomorrow for any stranded whales.

Update 8 am

DOC rangers have found no stranded whales in a search this morning of Golden Bay coastline, on Farewell Spit and down to Collingwood. This is good news. 

The pod of 150 or more pilot whales that were milling around off the coast of Pakawau yesterday afternoon also could not be seen from shore. 

It’s not known at this time where the whales are but DOC staff and Project Jonah remain ready to respond if a report comes in of whales stranding. 

The dead whales on Farewell Spit were yesterday moved with a digger to dunes in the area of the nature reserve that is not open to public walking access.

Monday 13 February

Update 6:45 pm

The pod of 150 or more pilot whales was still at sea about 2 km offshore from Pakawau on the western side of Golden Bay this evening.

DOC staff have finished their watch for the whales stranding in the area for tonight but DOC staff will search the coastline early tomorrow for any stranded whales.

The watch has ended tonight after low tide has passed as if the whales should strand tonight they would be refloated in the incoming tide.

A further update will be provided tomorrow morning when we know the situation.

Update 4:45 pm 

DOC staff are keeping a watch on the shore around the Taupata Point area of Golden Bay for any pilot whales stranding. 

DOC staff in a boat were monitoring a pod of about 150 or more pilot whales offshore from Taupata Point this afternoon but due to rough seas the boat has had to return to shore. When last seen the pod of whales was about 1km offshore. 

Some members of the public have told us they prevented about five of the whales stranding in the area this afternoon. They saw the whales starting to strand about 1.30 pm and pushed them back into deeper water. We understand about six people were involved. Their quick action has avoided those whales beaching and possibly more of the whales stranding. The other whales were further out from the shore at the time. 

DOC staff will continue to watch for any whales stranding in the area until around low tide which is about 6 pm.

Update 2:15pm 

DOC staff are monitoring a pod of about 200 pilot whales milling around in the sea off Taupata Point on the western side of Golden Bay. They are believed to be the same whales that were in the bay yesterday including whales that refloated after stranding. 

DOC staff are in a boat monitoring the whales and also on the shore ready to try to turn the whales around should they being to head towards the shore and be at risk of stranding. 

The tide is now going out and unless the whales start to swim out to sea there is risk of them stranding in the outgoing tide. 

Update 12.30 pm  

DOC has reconsidered its plans for disposal of the dead whales from the strandings on Farewell Spit. The dead whales will now be moved with a digger further up Farewell Spit to the area of the nature reserve that is not open to the public. 

The whales will be moved off the shore and into the dunes. 

It has been decided it is more suitable to take the dead whales out of the area that is open for public walking access.

Update 10:15 am

No whales have been found stranded in Golden Bay today. 

The pilot whales that were in the area yesterday were last seen late yesterday about 6 km offshore swimming towards Separation Point at the northern end of Abel Tasman National Park. It is hoped they have made their way out to open sea. 

DOC rangers this morning searched coastline on the western side of Golden Bay to as far along the inner side of Farewell Spit as it was possible to go and no stranded live whales were seen. 

It was not possible to use a plane or boat to look for whales this morning due to adverse weather conditions, including strong offshore winds and low cloud causing poor visibility. 

Sunday 12 February

Refloating whales10:50 am 12 February.
Refloating whales 10:50 am 12 February

Update 1:15 pm

Better news and hope for remnants of stranded pod

The 17 pilot whales that were part of a larger pod that stranded on Saturday near Puponga have been successfully turned around on the high tide and sent back into deeper water in Golden Bay.

Two boats were used to guide the 17 whales out to rejoin the original diffuse pod and it is hoped that they will find a way into deeper, safer waters.

Hundreds of volunteers are in the area and DOC staff and Project Jonah are asking that no more volunteers come over the hill to Golden Bay.

Update 10:50 am

DOC rangers and Project Jonah medics and volunteers are in the water with the 17 stranded whales and waiting for the tide to come in to refloat them.

The main pod of approximately 200 is swimming in a easterly direction off Collingwood.

There is no need for any more volunteers just now. There is no parking available. DOC staff are busy managing the traffic jams.

Update: 8 am

Better news from Farewell Spit

The 240 odd whales that had stranded between Puponga and Pakawau late on Saturday have mostly refloated themselves on last night’s high tide at 11 pm and are milling around in shallow water. It is low tide right now.

There are 17 live pilot whales still stranded and the focus this morning will be to prepare to refloat them on the incoming tide.

High tide is at 11.50 am.

No more volunteers required at the moment.

Saturday 11 February

Update: 5:30 pm

DOC and Project Jonah are calling for more volunteers.

The situation has changed rapidly since the mass stranding yesterday of more than 400 pilot whales and the loss of many of them.

Attempts to refloat the remaining live whales was successful but 20 of those whales have restranded and will need to be euthanised. DOC took the decision to humanely euthanise the whales out of concern for their welfare.

The others looked to be safe but in spite of best efforts by everyone to prevent further losses, the large pod of approximately 200 pilot whales that were free-swimming, have stranded near the original site and DOC and Project Jonah are calling for more volunteers.

Volunteers must have a wet suit – this is compulsory. Buckets and sheets are also needed.

Local volunteers are needed today. Others can come tomorrow to help refloat those remaining on the incoming tide. If DOC, Project Jonah and the communities can work together, we may salvage some of the stranded whales.

Not all stranded whales can successfully be refloated. Even when some whales are saved, they may still restrand as has happened in this instance and prolongs the effort and reduces the chances of success.

If you would like to help contact Project Jonah who are co-ordinating the response.

Previous updates

Media release 11 February

Media release 10 February

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