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


Read updates on the mass whale stranding in the Far North, where 58 pilot whales were found stranded on a remote Far North beach.

Date:  24 August 2010

24 August 2010, 3.00pm

A volunteer comforts one of the stranded whales.
A volunteer comforts one of the stranded

After two days of hectic activity, all was quiet on Sunday morning when DOC staff and members of Ngati Kahu returned to the scene of the mass stranding. The nine whales that were successfully refloated seemed to want nothing more to do with us and have disappeared over the horizon. A brilliant result. 

Burying the 49 dead whales started with a blessing by Ngati Kahu kaumatua for the sad job that lay ahead. 

As the whales were buried local volunteers, students from Auckland University of Technology and DOC staff gathered as much information they could about each whale, measuring each one and determining sex. The whole operation took a day and a half with everyone finally able to head home on Monday afternoon.

The Department of Conservation would again like to thank everyone who put so much into helping the whales and contributing to what was a challenging but rewarding experience.  

21 August 2010, 7.15pm 

Of the 13 whales that were re-floated at Maitai Bay, four re-stranded themselves. One of the whales, a large male was in poor condition when he was re-floated, and failed to swim out, milling close to the shore where people and boats worked hard to try to keep him from coming ashore. Unfortunately, he beached himself. 

One other was trying to strand itself on the rocks, the remaining two were swimming upside down, and in circles. Two hours was spent trying to help them to no avail. 

Twenty minutes before dark the difficult decision was made to euthanize these clearly distressed whales, to save the others. As there was concern that if these whales remained in the water, they would attract the others back to shore.  

On a positive note, the remaining nine were spotted swimming strongly and steadily back out to sea.  For all the people involved, the fact that nine whales were able to be successfully rescued has definitely made the huge effort worthwhile.  

Stranded whales in the surf.
Stranded whales in the surf   

The Department of Conservation has been overwhelmed by the huge support they’ve received from everyone, including the community, Far North Whale Rescue, Project Jonah, iwi and volunteers. It’s been a tough road, but overall the result has been fairly positive and has been a fantastic example of working collaboratively. One person even commented that it was the best example of team work he’d seen in a long time.  

The next stage will be the clean-up and burial of the 49 dead whales. A site has been chosen by kaumatua (elders) near to where the whales originally stranded. The ground has been blessed in preparation for the burials which will take place tomorrow.  A service will be conducted by kaumatua of Ngati Kahu. Four DOC staff, along with members of Ngati Kahu, will carry out the procedure. A DOC staff member and people from Ngatu Kahu will watch over the dead whales overnight to ensure none are tampered with.     

21 August 2010, 5.50pm 

Eleven surviving whales were transported to Maitai Beach by trailer mid afternoon. As the whales arrived at the beach, they were floated in the water straight away and oriented to face out to sea, ready for release.

Teams of volunteers, wearing wetsuits, stabilised the whales while waiting for them all to arrive. 

Current situation: Of the eleven whales that were released, seven appear to be in good health, while four are experiencing difficulties. The Department is concerned because they haven’t left the immediate area and we are closely monitoring the situation.

21 August 2010, 10.30am

At 9.30am, a karakia (prayer) was said for the whales by a kaumatua (elder) of Ngati Kahu and then the transportation operation began. 

Currently four whales are being transported over to Maitai Bay. The Department of Conservation is using diggers, and lifting equipment to place the whales onto trailers and then drive them over the short distance from Karikari beach to Maitai Bay. Hay is being used in the trailers to provide a soft pad for the whales while they’re being transported.   

Of the remaining 14 whales, all are in fairly good condition, apart from one large animal. The mood at the beach is sombre but calm, as volunteers, some who have been with the whales all night, continue their job, tipping buckets of water over the animals, stroking them and trying to comfort them.

Volunteers are trying to stabilise a stranded whale.
Volunteers are trying to stabilise a
stranded whale

The transportation will probably take a few hours. Once at Maitai, volunteers, members of Project Jonah, Far North Whale Rescue and DOC staff will continue to work to re-orientate the whales in the water before releasing them later this afternoon.  

There are currently around 100 people at the beach.

21 August 2010, 8.00am

As of 8.00am this morning, of the 15 stranded pilot whales – one has died, the other 14 are still alive. A team of DOC staff, Project Jonah and Far North Whale Rescue are coordinating equipment in order to transport the whales from Karikari beach across to Maitai Bay.   

The move will begin in approximately an hour. At this stage, the plan is to release the whales back out to sea later on this afternoon. In the meantime, volunteers will work with the whales to keep them damp and cool, and re-orientate them back into the water.

20 August 2010, 9.40pm

Stranded Whales in Far North to be transported in rescue attempt

Attempts to re-float 15 stranded pilot whales at Karikari beach in the Far North are being hampered by rough seas. 

The whales will be transported by truck using lifting equipment and diggers tomorrow morning, over to the popular beach of Maitai Bay, on the other side of the Karikari peninsula. As the bay is sheltered, it will increase the likelihood of a successful re-float.

A team of over seventy people will be involved, including 60 members of Project Jonah, local Department of Conservation staff, Far North Whale Rescue and volunteers from the local community and iwi Ngati Kahu. 

It’s been a long and tiring day for those involved in the whale rescue. Rain eased up over the course of the day, but workers and volunteers have been working on the windy beach and cold seas, keeping the whales dampened down and holding them from being rolled over in the tide. 

A devastating scene at the beach filled with stranded whales.
A devastating scene at the beach filled
with stranded whales

A skeleton crew of approximately 20 volunteers and DOC staff will remain with the whales overnight.

Department of Conservation Operations Manager at the rescue, Patrick Whaley, says their efforts have been concentrated on getting the whales up onto the beach and away from the surf.

“It may sound strange to people that we want to take the whales out of the water, but they are actually at great risk because when they are on the sand they are unable to manoeuvre and stay upright, so they roll over and then their blow-holes become submerged under the sea, effectively drowning them,” explains Mr Whaley.

In fact, Department of Conservation staff believe that this is what happened to the rest of the stranded pod. Of 58 stranded whales, 43 had already drowned by the time the whales were discovered this morning.

It was a distressing scene at the beach today. Rescuers were gathered around the few remaining live whales, struggling against the waves to keep them upright and cool, whilst the many carcasses surged and rolled around in the tide all around them. 

Many members of the local community, including families, school children and teenagers turned up to help. Despite the difficult scenario, people were upbeat and positive, clearly relishing the opportunity to be so close to these magnificent marine mammals. Kaumatua (elders) from local iwi Ngati Kahu, were on hand to provide advice and guidance on the correct protocols regarding the stranding. 

As is often the case in life, tragedy can sometimes be catalyst for bringing people together. And this was certainly the case today.


  • The whales were first discovered at 10.30am this morning.
  • Karikari beach is on the Karikari peninsula, just north of Doubtless Bay in the Far North of New Zealand.
  • Pilot whales travel in close knit family groups in large pods and it is not uncommon for them to mass strand as if a member of the pod gets into trouble and sends out a distress signal, the other will follow it.
  • Pilot whales can weigh up to a tonne and a half and grow to approximately 6 metres long.
  • The Department of Conservation is a government department charged with the management of all our marine mammals, including seals and dolphins.
  • All marine mammals are absolutely protected under New Zealand law.     

20 August 2010, 6.00pm

15 whales have not been able to be refloated on the high tide. A decision has been made to leave a skeleton crew to monitor them overnight. At first light, an attempt will be made to move the remaining whales about a kilometre by transporter and refloat them in Matai Bay where sea conditions are hoped to be easier for refloating.

20 August 2010, 4.00pm

Some of the whales have been moved above high-water mark, as they were at risk from drowning due to heavy swells. 40 DOC staff and volunteers are working with the whales currently. 

Read the media release Mass whale stranding in Far North - 20 August 2010, 2.30pm

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