Community helps beached whales

Collville Bay pilot whale stranding

27th December 2009

There was barely a spare pair of hands or an unused bedsheet in Coromandel’s Colville Bay during the refloating of 43 beached pilot whales today.

At 5.30am this morning, a fisherman raised the alarm – 63 whales, including juveniles and calves, had become stranded on a beach. Sadly, 20 whales were already dead.

DOC alerted Project Jonah and volunteers were mobilised immediately to the scene.  More than 80 Project Jonah medics joined DOC workers, locals and holidaymakers to care for the 43 still alive.

Project Jonah medic Heidi Baker was impressed by how well the local people had managed the situation. “It was really calm, people had already covered the whales and dug around their fins. Everyone had gathered in groups around a whale and the kids were bringing in water. I just walked around each group, offering advice, making sure everyone was OK and not too cold or tired.”

Andrew Baucke, the DOC interim area manager for Hauraki Gulf, said Colville Bay is “a classic long, flat, gently shelving bay”, which made it a prime spot for the whales to strand. “There’s also a lot of marine mammal movement through the Colville Channel,” he said.

Rescuers kept the whales cool and calm until around 1pm, when the tide had come in far enough to start the refloating process. Two trenches had been dug to bring water closer to the whales and these trenches were then used to help move the whales, a few at a time, to deeper water.

The refloating was delayed, said Andrew, when one mother whale gave birth to a calf while she was being moved out to sea. “As they were slowly moving, the pod stopped and the adults came back around. The calf was born, they checked it was OK, then they moved off again. It would’ve been quite a sight,” he says.

Project Jonah medic Willow van As described what it was like being in the water refloating the whales. "The whales took some time to adjust and get their sea legs back.  They spent quite a long time milling around and seemed to be finding it difficult to stay upright  We formed a human chain between them and the beach to prevent them turning back and boats were used to guide them out. It was such a relief when they finally started to make their way out to sea.”

To read the personal story of Adrian Winks, one of our first volunteers on the ground click here.
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