Interview with Renee Kelly

When did you do your Project Jonah training?
''Late last year in December 2007''.

When was your first stranding?
''4 July 2008. A juvenile orca stranded on Auckland’s west coast during heavy storms. I didn’t think I'd get the chance to put my training into practice so quickly – but it was great to know I had the skills to help and that I’d be able to make a positive difference."

What was the experience like?
"Surreal. It’s hard to explain. These animals are so huge and powerful – yet when they strand they're so vulnerable and exposed. They’re mammals, and in many ways they’re just like us. When you look into the eyes of a whale, it’s hard not to connect. It’s almost like they’re pleading for help. They panic when you leave them alone. In some strange way I think they know that we’re trying to help." 

How did you feel afterwards?
"Exhausted but elated. A real mix of emotion. It’s hard to put it into words."

What made you want to do the training?
"I love the ocean and marine life and thought learning how to save whales would be a fun thing to do. The reality is that it’s hard work and emotionally and physically draining. But the upside is that you get close to these amazing animals, and have the chance to help them. These animals face so many threats; a lot of them are caused by humans. It’s nice that we can do something positive and help them when they need it the most."

Why’s Project Jonah so great?
"They’re a grass roots organisation and genuinely care about marine mammals. They want to share their knowledge and skills and give people a tangible way to take part. They’re passionate about what they do, but they also have a really practical approach. They want to include – not exclude people, and help New Zealanders make a difference."

How did you hear about Project Jonah?
They’ve been around for a long time – they’re just one of those organisations you know about. Over the years I’ve seen them run training courses down at the beach. They have a life size inflatable whale which looks incredibly lifelike. Like other people, I thought there had actually been a stranding – and rushed to help. I felt a bit stupid when I realised it was a plastic whale!

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