Pilot whales have stranded on the Ohiwa Spit at Opotiki on the East Coast. Get updates on the strandings here.
View photos of the stranding on Project Jonah's Facebook page.
Update: 8.30 am Friday 7 November
A fixed-wing aircraft flight along the Eastern Bay of Plenty coastline at first light this morning found no evidence of further strandings from the pilot whale pod which came ashore in Ohiwa Harbour earlier in the week.
The spotter plane was supported by volunteer observers on the ground in the Waihau Bay, Raukokore and East Cape area who also reported there was no sign of any whales.
DOC and other agency staff who were on stand-by to respond to potential further strandings will now be stood down.
The deceased whales have now all been interred at Ohope Spit, Ohiwa Spit and Bryan’s Beach following removal of some jawbones and teeth for use by tangata whenua.
The burial places are fenced and asks that people refrain from entering them for the immediate future.
Incident controller Jono Maxwell said while it was disappointing to have lost so many whales during the strandings at Ohiwa and Bryan’s Beach, the response from the community was overwhelming and having around 30 of the animals safely back at sea was particularly gratifying.
“Simply, we could not have got the first group of around 30 pilot whales back out to sea without the help we got from members of the public. Their efforts on Tuesday night were outstanding.”
Mr Maxwell said other assistance from the community over Wednesday and yesterday was equally humbling.
“We had food, boats, accommodation for volunteers and all manner of things flood in – it was amazing support and shows just how much people are prepared to go out of their way to help out with events such as this. It is hard to express our thanks in a strong enough way, but hopefully people will understand that we really do appreciate it.”
Update: 4.30 pm Thursday 6 November
Work at Ohiwa Spit and Bryan’s Beach in the Eastern Bay of Plenty has now concluded with the burial of a total of 40 pilot whales from the strandings at Whangakopikopiko Island on Wednesday and at Bryan’s Beach this morning.
This is in addition to another 10 which beached and were euthanased on Tuesday evening on the Ohope side of Ohiwa Harbour.
DOC staff undertook the burials in accordance with the tikanga and wishes of local iwi, Ngati Awa and Upokorehe.
Tissue samples were also taken from 49 of the deceased whales.
Incident Controller Jono Maxwell said DOC is now planning contingency action in case the 30 pilot whales successfully guided out of Ohiwa Harbour on Tuesday evening return to the area and strand.
A fixed wing aircraft made an extensive reconnaissance flight this afternoon but was unable to sight the pod.
“They flew from Matata in the west around the off-shore islands, over all of Ohiwa harbour and east to Waihau Bay. With perfect visibility they did not see any whales or even dolphins so we are taking that as a positive sign,” Mr Maxwell said.
However another fixed-wing plane flight will be undertaken at first light to check the Eastern Bay beaches are free of stranded whales.
“At this stage we are hopeful there will be nothing but good news for both the whales and those of our staff and the community who have rallied to support this incident.”
Update: 9.30 am Thursday 6 November
A group of 22 pilot whales which re-stranded this morning at Bryan’s Beach, East of the Ohiwa Harbour entrance, has died.
DOC and Project Jonah responded to a report at 6.20 am this morning and on arrival at the scene found whales in a poor state of health and that six had died overnight. A further eight whales died in the first hour of the morning. A decision was made to euthanise the remaining eight whales on welfare grounds at 8.30 am.
Incident Controller Jono Maxwell said that the decision to euthanise was made based on the welfare of the animals, the developing weather conditions and the available options for refloating the whales.
Project Jonah’s General Manager Darren Grover thanked the community who had been involved in the operation so far. “This is a sad outcome after yesterday’s successes. It’s worth remembering that every moment out of their natural environment is a highly stressful time for these beautiful animals”.
More than 60 whales were involved in the stranding incidents which started to unfold on Tuesday afternoon. A total of 48 whales have so far died.
DOC remains on standby and will be monitoring the situation in case any further groups of whales come into difficulty.
Update: 7.30 am Thursday 6 November
DOC and Project Jonah are currently responding to a group of pilot whales that have re-stranded near Opotiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty this morning.
22 pilot whales were reported stranded at 6.20 am just east of the Ohiwa Harbour entrance and a team of marine mammal medics from Project Jonah is on the way, supported by DOC operations and logistics teams.
DOC staff were up at first light this morning, preparing to recover the bodies of dead whales from the recent strandings, and have now been redeployed to respond to the fresh stranding.
>Incident Controller Jono Maxwell says that an initial assessment by the DOC Ranger who discovered the stranding is that these 22 whales are part of the same group that were in the Ohiwa Harbour yesterday, and that six of the 22 had died. “These whales have spent two low tides on the hard sand now, and have been out to sea and back. We are now very concerned for their welfare and ability to survive until high tide tonight”, said Jono. “We are also keeping a close eye on the weather, which may hamper operations”.
“Our message to members of the public, who may be thinking of coming to have a look or to help, is to please keep away from the scene so that roads in the area remain clear for Project Jonah and DOC”, said Jono.
More than 60 whales were involved in the stranding incidents which started to unfold on Tuesday afternoon. A total of 32 whales have so far died
Update: 11.30 am Wednesday 5 November
A further 21 pilot whales have been successfully refloated and herded out to sea from Ohiwa Harbour in the Eastern Bay of Plenty this morning.
The decision to try and move the animals was made following an assessment at first light this morning, when they were re-sighted in shallow water near Whangakopikopiko/Tern Island which is inside the harbour mouth.
Around 25 whales were also found to have died overnight, stranded. The dead whales were also discovered at first light around the island and surrounding harbour margins. These deaths are additional to the eleven whales which were euthanised yesterday on welfare grounds.
Successful efforts by DOC staff and community partners yesterday evening led to the first pod of pilot whales, at risk of stranding in the Ohiwa Harbour, being successfully herded out of the harbour and into the sea.
This morning’s operation has seen a second group of pilot whales returned to the sea, with no further reports of whales in the Ohiwa Harbour.
Incident Controller Mike Jones has praised the coordinated effort of iwi, Project Jonah, the local community, police and Coastguard. “DOC would like to thank and congratulate the community for this response and the success we have had today, particularly Project Jonah whose response has been exceptional and we strongly thank them for coming to our aid with their professionally trained volunteers”, says Mike. “We will now work with local iwi on appropriate arrangements for burial for those animals that were not able to be refloated”.
DOC remains on standby and will be monitoring the pod of whales for the next few hours in case they come into further difficulty.
Update: 9.30 pm Tuesday 4 November
Successful efforts by DOC staff and community partners has led to one pod of pilot whales, at risk of stranding in the Ohiwa Harbour, being successfully herded out of the harbour and into the sea.
A second group of pilot whales is still at risk of stranding in shallow water near to Whangakopikopiko/Tern Island which is inside the harbour mouth.
Some of the whales have been euthanized after stranding in the Ohiwa Harbour at Opotiki on the East Coast this afternoon.
Responders were called from the scene at sunset this evening and will return at first light tomorrow to assess the situation.
Local iwi have been involved in the response alongside Coastguard and DOC staff.
The next high tide is expected at 5.45 am tomorrow.
Project Jonah volunteers remain on standby in the event the situation escalates.
Members of the public are asked to stay clear of the harbour area in order to allow the operation to take place unhindered.
8 pm Tuesday 4 November
Five pilot whales have stranded on the Ohiwa Spit at Opotiki on the East Coast and DOC is trying to prevent a further 20 whales in the harbour from also stranding.
As the tide is currently full, with no chance of refloating the five stranded whales DOC has euthanized the whales on welfare grounds. A sixth whale stranded further inside the harbour has also been euthanased.
A pilot whale experiencing problems in Ohiwa harbour may be responsible for attracting the pod into the harbour area late this afternoon. The next high tide is expected at 5.45 am tomorrow.
DOC has three groups of staff coordinating the response around the harbour, and Project Jonah volunteers on standby in the event the situation escalates.