I was the first Project Jonah person on the scene. I live by the beach and am always on the beach at sunrise. When a text came in I thought it was Project Jonah about a stranding following the previous days sighting at Port Levy, but it was a friend saying there was a whale on the beach by the surf club.
Off I went and right in front of the surf club was a whale. Two walkers were saying it was dead and it certainly seemed lifeless. I looked along the beach for the rest of the pod and saw two people waving at me (I had my vest on). Just then some fishermen came down the beach in a 4x4 so I hitched a lift to the next whale. This one was alive. A chap called Colin said he had phoned the Department of Conservation (DOC) and he had cleared the sand away from around the blowhole. There was another walker there too, a woman, who was clearing sand from around the tail! I looked back down the beach and there were a few more walkers hurrying towards us. . Colin went for shovels and I asked another walker to go over the dunes to my friends house and ask for sheets and buckets (I stupidly had left mine in the van and did not want to leave the whale when there was no one else there trained.) The whale was on her side, nose pointing north and angled slightly towards the ocean. Her top fin and blowhole were towards the sea. She had pooped and the poop was liquid and a greeny colour.
Quite soon we had shovels, a couple of buckets and some sheets. We also had about a dozen people, but no one else trained. We had also gained a policeman. I set some people to watering the whale and others to digging out on the landward side so we could roll it upright and hoped desperately for some more trained people. I drew a circle around the tail in the sand so people would stay away from it.
It seemed quite a long time, but I think it was about half an hour before anyone else came.
The next to arrive were two other Project Jonah volunteers, swiftly followed by two City Council Rangers. That gave us five knowledgeable people plus our locals, so we decided to roll the whale upright. We had a quick huddle to check we were all in agreement with how we were going to move the whale. While someone watched the pec fin, we knelt down and pushed! Gosh she was heavy! Up she came, and the fins were both clear. We covered her with the sheets which had been brought along and wet them down. We had a few kids so I asked them to be buddy to the whale, to talk to it and reassure it.
I looked up to find we had collected quite a number of people by then, maybe 50 or so. The Rangers made a makeshift perimeter with their shovels and some tape.
I couldn't see any whales out to sea but I was worried there may be more stranded further up the beach that we didn't know about. However, a runner came down the beach and said there were no more, so it seemed it was just these two.
I have no idea how long this next stage lasted. We had the whale upright and some of our very early volunteers went home for breakfast and to get into dry clothes. Gradually, more Project Jonah medics arrived, and then a DOC truck, with Buzz as well (Buzz was a great help, organising people and medics throughout the day)! We handed over responsibility to them and shortly after I went back to my van for breakfast and my proper kit. It was only then I saw the Project Jonah text.
I remained for the rest of the day. I had become very attached to the whale in that early morning stage and had no intention of leaving! I did take short breaks and my husband brought me a hot lunch. I was surprised every time I looked up to see how many people were there.
It was an experience I’ll never forget.