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


DOC is working to refloat eight pygmy killer whales that have stranded in Northland.

Date:  27 November 2018

10 whales were found at 90 Mile Beach, south of Te Paki Stream on Sunday 25 November. Two have since died.

On Monday evening a decision was made to move the whales to the east coast beach of Rarawa, where there is a higher chance of a successful re-float due to the conditions.

DOC’s response teams are working with Project Jonah New Zealand and Whale Rescue to assess the situation and coordinate a response. Iwi are also aware.

DOC will provide updates to this page (most recent first)

Media are free to use whale images on this website, credit DOC.

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Thursday 29 November

1:48 pm

DOC can unfortunately confirm another deceased whale at Rawene, located on the West Coast of the Far North.  DOC received reports of the whale at 9pm Wednesday 28/11 and we members of the public had been able to refloat the whale and it was seen swimming  near shore on Wednesday evening. DOC arrived on site at first light Thursday 29/11 and found the deceased whale. Photo ID from marine experts suggest the whale is a pygmy orca, the same species as stranded earlier in the week, but in person confirmation is needed of species. 

At this stage, DOC experts do not think this whale is the remaining whale from the earlier reflating attempts in the week where only one whale remained at sea due to the distance from Great Exhibition Bay to Rawene.

Iwi have confirmed testing to be completed on this whale.

DOC would like to stress that any marine mammals found in distress should be immediately reported to 0800 DOC HOT.

Wednesday 28 November

11:15 am

DOC experts arrived at Great Exhibition Bay at approximately 10 am this morning and assessed the situation. Unfortunately five of the pygmy whales had beached again and a difficult decision was made to euthanize.

Iwi had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to refloat the whales this morning and euthanisation was in the best interest of the whales. 

There is still one whale offshore currently being monitored.

9 am

Four of the six pygmy whales refloated yesterday afternoon from Rarawa beach in Northland are now extremely close to shore at Great Exhibition Bay, approximately 20 km north of Rarawa Beach.

DOC, Project Jonah and other rescue teams are making their way on site for an assessment.

Public access to Great Exhibition Bay has been closed due to this being a logging road and there are health and safety issues.

Tuesday 27 November

3 pm

The six remaining whales are approximately 400 m off shore and swimming. Far North Whale Rescue, DOC, Project Jonah and other volunteers are continuing to monitor them, with the hope of leaving them later today.

DOC would like to thank everyone for their hard work over the last few days in the rescue of these pygmy whales and we are hopeful that the six whales that have been refloated will remain at sea.

Details regarding the deceased whales are being confirmed with iwi at the moment and this will be updated tomorrow (28 November 2018).


The second whale that came back into shore after refloat attempts has also been euthanised. The six remaining whales are swimming close to shore and being monitored closely.

11.20 am

The refloat attempt has taken place at Rarawa beach. All eight whales were refloated, but two have since returned to shore in bad condition and one has been euthanised.

We are working with experts on advice for the remaining whale on the beach and the six whales that have been refloated are still near shore which is of concern.

9 am

The whales are currently being transferred to the beach and the refloating process will start at approximately 9:30 am when all whales should be on the beach.  

Whales will be held in a holding pattern in the water with volunteers, DOC staff and Whale Rescue personnel.

Two whales at a time will be towed in pontoons out to deeper water after an hour or so of refloating, to be released.

Two inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) will be used to do this task: IRBS will be manned by two life savers from Far North Life Savers, DOC personnel and assistance from Far North Whale Rescue and Whale

The Kaitaia DOC office is closed today (Tuesday 27 November).

8 am

All eight whales were successfully moved to Rarawa beach yesterday and rested overnight in a stream.

DOC staff and volunteers remained with them overnight and all whales are alive. They will be transferred from the stream to the beach approximately 8 am.

High tide is at 11.30 am and an attempt to refloat will be made then.

Public volunteers have started to arrive at the beach and have been arriving all night. 

Monday 26 November

4 pm

The eight living pygmy whales are being moved from 90 mile beach to Rarawa beach on the east coast as there is a higher chance of a successful re-float from this beach due to the conditions.

They will be held in a stream overnight to relive the pressure from bodies being on the beach – DOC staff will remain with them overnight.

DOC needs public help tomorrow (Tuesday 27 November) at Rarawa Beach. Arrive from 6 am and report to the Rarawa Campground Check in area.

Report marine strandings to 0800 DOC HOT.

Public help information:

Assemble at Rarawa beach campground check in area from 6:30 am Tuesday 27 November.

People should be advised to bring a wetsuit if they have them, warm clothing including a change of warm clothing, a sunhat and sun block, plenty of food and drink.

People without wetsuits can help care for whales on the beach before a re-float attempt but volunteers usually must wear a wetsuit when assisting with the re-floating phase of the rescue.

Bring sheets, shovels and buckets – some may be needed.

The full list of gear required is:

  • Wet suit: you will not be allowed in the water without a wetsuit for safety reasons.
  • Wind proof jacket
  • Sturdy shoes or wet suit booties
  • Shorts and long-sleeved shirt
  • Warm clothing and a hat for cold conditions
  • Water proof jacket and trousers for cold conditions
  • Sunhat, sunglasses, sun block
  • Ample food and drink
  • Shovels and buckets
  • Durable rubber or diving gloves
  • A complete change of warm clothes

12 pm

Eight whales remain, two have passed away. Expert advice is that a re-float attempt will be made at high tide tomorrow. The whales will have the best chance of a successful re-float if they are all together – which they are not at this stage. We are working to move them closer together to ensure a successful re-float tomorrow.

10 am
Two of the pygmy whales have died, eight remain. High tide is at 12:30 pm and we will provide an update post-high tide, or sooner if there is news.

9 am

There are 10 stranded pygmy whales south of Te Paki Stream, Northland. Two are in bad condition. We were advised late on Sunday and have had a ranger on site since first light this morning monitoring the situation.

Our response teams are working with Project Jonah New Zealand and Whale Rescue to assess the situation and coordinate a response. Iwi are also aware.

Public support may be requested after an assessment has been done. We will update this post with further information.


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