Wednesday, 12 August 2020


Community effort saves whales

Volunteers from the local community in and around Matarangi have been credited for helping save the lives of seven pilot whales, including a calf, that stranded on the beach last weekend.

A total of eleven animals were discovered early on Saturday morning at the Matarangi Spit adjacent to The Dunes Golf Course. It is believed a calf may have beached first, causing the family pod to follow.

Department of Conservation Ranger, Emily McKeague, said a report was made to the DOC hotline at approximately 9:30am, but locals were already in action attempting to keep the animals cool and wet. “It began at 8:00am when the whales were discovered by Matarangi locals,” she said. “They asked for help via social media and received a massive response.”

Four of the whales - three adults and one calf - had already died when DOC staff arrived. A plan was then formulated to attempt to re-float the surviving whales. “For this operation we needed to wait for high tide which was at 2:30pm,” Emily said. “At this time, the remaining seven whales were re-floated. The whales moved into the Whangapoua Harbour and once they were all moving freely, were ushered out into the open ocean using the attending vessels.

“It took approximately an hour to corral them out to sea. Once at sea the whales were left alone to minimise stress as much as possible, especially given the pod contained a calf.”

Emily said the whole rescue was a huge community effort with hundreds of people turning up to assist. “We would not have been able to save the whales without the public support and all those who volunteered their time,” she said. “Providing refreshments for those in the water, operators providing machinery to assist with burial and also ushering the whales back to sea - our DOC staff were absolutely blown away by the selflessness of all of the volunteers on the day, everyone wanted to chip in and provide help in any way they could.”

In addition to the members of the public who assisted, DOC also would like to express thanks to Hauraki iwi, the Matarangi Volunteer Fire Brigade, Peter Head - the Whitanga Harbourmaster, Project Jonah, St John Ambulance and Massey University.

Emily said there are many reasons why whales become stranded and it is not always easy to know what has caused a particular case. However, New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world with up to 300 whales and dolphins beaching each year. Locals are being asked to monitor beaches over the coming days in case of the Matarangi whales re-stranding and to call DOC’s 24-hour number, 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468), to report an incident.

Pictured: Volunteers worked for hours to help save seven pilot whales that stranded at the Matarangi Spit on Saturday last week. Photo supplied by the Department of Conservation.


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