Locals rally to save stranded whales


25th January 2010

The local community of Port Levy rallied together yesterday to save a pod of stranded whales.  Joined by Project Jonah volunteers, the Department of Conservation and rangers from Christchurch City Council, more than thirty whales were eventually saved.

"It was a great team effort and we're happy with the outcome", says Mark Simpson of Project Jonah. "It's always very sad when some whales die but it can be incredibly hard to save them all", he continues.

A small group of pilot whales grounded on the Port Levy mudflats on Saturday night but were re-floated and turned out to sea by locals that night.  In the early hours of the morning, however, the entire pod of almost 50 whales re-stranded and were discovered by locals at first light.

The alarm was raised and Project Jonah volunteers were immediately mobilised to the scene. More than 15 local Project Jonah medics worked alongside DOC, locals and council rangers to care for the animals until the high tide returned and allowed the pod to be re-floated and re-directed back out to sea.

Kimberly Muncaster, Project Jonah CEO, helped DOC monitor the surviving pod.  “It was incredible to see the way these animals re-grouped and re-connected with each other. Two small calves survived the ordeal and stuck close to their mothers sides, but the rest of the pod mingled for a while before moving into distinct, smaller groups.  There was lots of body contact, rolling, back arching and tail slapping.  They mingled and moved slowly to begin with but eventually picked up speed and moved further out to sea.”

Back on land the arduous task of moving the 16 dead whales above the high water mark took place. "Having the local farming community alongside us was a huge help. They're practical and hands on and aren't afraid to muck in", says Mark Simpson. “It was messy work but no one complained about being covered in mud from head to toe”.

Others helped in whatever way they could. A Christchurch family, who had arrived that afternoon, prepared buckets of soapy water and plied rescuers with sandwiches and hot mugs of tea.

"We'd booked the bach for a quiet week away, the last thing we expected to find was a satellite dish in the driveway and a news crew camped out in the kitchen.  Sadly we arrived too late to be of any real help to the whales, but at least we could do our bit in a small, but meaningful way.  Being on the sidelines of an event like this is definitely a once in a lifetime experience", says Rosemary White.

Project Jonah volunteer Stephen Valentine showed dedication to the cause by setting up camp and keeping a night vigil over the animals. "People are  fascinated by whales, but touching dead whales can carry serious health risks. People came down to the beach throughout the night to take a closer look but everyone was well behaved and showed the animals respect," says Stephen.

A morning search of the bays showed no signs of a re-strand but locals have been asked to stay on high alert and report any unusual whale behaviour immediately to DOC on 0800 DOC HOT.

Click here to read more first hand personal accounts from the stranding or visit our Facebook page for photos.
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