Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Department of Conservation staff in the Far North are today in the throes of coordinating efforts to save a pod of pilot whales stranded at Spirits Bay, approximately 90km north of Kaitaia.

Date:  22 September 2010

Updated Wednesday 22 September, 5.20pm

Treacherous conditions hamper efforts to save stranded whales in Far North

Department of Conservation staff and volunteers are battling heavy seas and high winds in an effort to save a large pod of pilot whales stranded on an isolated Far North beach.

An unknown number of whales have been stranding themselves all day. Early estimates put the number at approximately 74. However, the actual number is not clear, as the surging tide and large waves makes it difficult to be exact.

Rescuers are concentrating on trying to move the mammals out of the surf and onto the beach to prevent them from drowning. Sadly, many have been washed up against the rocks probably resulting in injuries.

DOC’s Operations Manager on the beach, Patrick Whaley, says the big seas and gusting winds, some reaching up to 40 knots, is making it extremely hard to move the animals.  

“It’s heart-wrenching to have to see so many whales coming ashore and then drowning in the surf, without being able to reach them in time,” said Mr Whaley.

Mr Whaley said the Department had already had to make the awful decision to euthanize some of the weakest and most stressed animals.

“It is absolutely cruel to leave them to suffer a slow and painful death,” he said.

There are around 35 people on the beach. Two crews are working with diggers and lifting equipment to try to move the whales, while others are comforting them. So far, they have been able to move eight whales to safety above high water mark.

DOC’s Community Relations Programme Manager in Kaitaia, Carolyn Smith, says there is no chance of being able to refloat the whales today. Efforts will be concentrated on trying to move as many to safety as possible while it’s still light, then keeping a watch over the animals overnight.

“We will reassess the situation tomorrow and decide on the best course of action then,” she says.

Meanwhile a further 30 staff are expected to arrive overnight from around Northland and Auckland. Volunteers from Project Jonah, Far North Whale Rescue, Te Hapua and even a team from Te Rarawa iwi are also giving their assistance.  

DOC is still keen to get more volunteers with wetsuits and warm clothes. If anyone has equipment and can help, please go to Spirits Bay camp.

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Wednesday 22 September

Another mass whale stranding in the Far North 

Department of Conservation staff in the Far North are today in the throes of coordinating efforts to save a pod of pilot whales stranded at Spirits Bay, approximately 90km north of Kaitaia.

At 11.30am this morning DOC staff received a call from a contractor that whales had stranded themselves at Spirits Bay. Upon arrival at the beach, staff counted 74 pilot whales spread across 2 kilometres of beach, 49 alive and 25 dead, with more still stranding. There are still up to 50 whales just off-shore.

Volunteers from Project Jonah, Far North Whale Rescue, and other DOC offices in Northland and Auckland, along with members of the local Te Hapua community are on their way to help. According to Kaitaia Area Manager Jonathan Maxwell, the effort required to save so many whales will be considerable.

“We need as many volunteers as possible, as it will be at least until tomorrow before we can look at refloating them, which means caring for them over the next 2 days,” Mr Maxwell said.

DOC is asking anyone who is able to help to come to Spirits Bay campground. Mr Maxwell said they must have a wetsuit, warm clothing, and wet weather gear.

“If you have the necessary equipment and are able to help, please go straight to Spirits Bay,” Mr Maxwell said.

“Also if you are planning to stay overnight, you will need to be able to sleep in your vehicle, or bring a tent,” he added.

Heavy sea conditions, high winds and the sheer manpower required to save such a large number of stranded mammals are serious factors to be considered for DOC.

“We are absolutely committed to saving as many of these animals as possible, but as is always the case, human safety is the number one priority. That’s why careful and thorough planning and coordination for this operation are absolutely crucial,” Mr Maxwell explained.

This is the second mass whale stranding in the Far North in two months. In August, a pod of 58 pilot whales stranded themselves at Karikari beach. Upon discovery, 43 were already dead. A further 6 died during the rescue attempt, with nine successfully refloated. The rescue operation involved a huge volunteer effort and was a fantastic example of community support for one of our most loved wild mammals. 

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