Project Jonah saddened by death of rare whale

28 February 2009

Gray_s_beaked_whale_strands_photo_credit_Marc_Herbulot_1.jpg

A Gray’s beaked whale, which beached itself today on the Whangaparoa Peninsula, was sadly euthanased due to extreme ill health.

The three and a half metre whale, which first appeared in Stanmore Bay 3 weeks ago, had been closely monitored by the Department of Conservation, research staff of Massey University and Project Jonah volunteers. 

Whilst fears grew for its welfare, it wasn't until the animal stranded that a full examination could be done and the animal properly assessed.

“Sadly the condition of this whale left us no choice. It was clearly emaciated and in rapid decline. An attempt to re-float would have resulted in a re-strand and we wanted to alleviate this animal of any further suffering,” said Massey University marine biologist Dr Karen Stockin.

The Department of Conservation, the government agency legally responsible for marine mammals in New Zealand, euthanased the animal at 3.15pm.

"Euthanizing an animal is never a pleasant thing to do. However, the whale was clearly undernourished and far from its usual feeding grounds of the deep ocean. It just didn’t have much chance of survival and unfortunately euthanising it was the only humane solution,” said DOC biodiversity programme manager Thelma Wilson.

Project Jonah volunteers, who had worked around the clock to keep an eye on this animal over the last week, were called on to help care for this animal during its final hours.

Willow Van As, who trained as a Project Jonah medic, just months before, was on the scene as the animal first stranded and raised the alarm. “I knew there was a strong possibility that the animal would strand but selfishly I had hoped it wouldn’t be on my guard. As sad as the situation is, I feel some comfort knowing that I was able to respond immediately and make the animal as comfortable as possible before DOC and further help arrived,” said Willow.

The commitment of Project Jonah volunteers has been praised by Department of Conservation staff.

“Project Jonah volunteers have done an awesome job all the way through, keeping an eye on the whale and the public. They’ve been on the beach from daybreak to nightfall reminding people to give the animal much needed space,” says Liz Maire, DOC Community Relations Programme Manager.

"It’s been hard work for everyone involved, but I couldn't be more proud of our volunteers'', says Project Jonah CEO, Kimberly Muncaster. ''They've turned out day after day to help keep an eye on this animal, rain, hail or shine. They have willingly given up their time to help, simply because they care." 

A post-mortem of the whale will be conducted by Massey University in coming days to determine the potential reasons for its extreme ill health.

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