Workers tell of freeing whale

CHERIE HOWIE
Last updated 23:38 09/07/2011
whalewide
BEN CURRAN/Marlborough Express

DoC staff attempt to rescue the young humpback. The juvenile had entered Tory Channel after days of travelling up the east coast from Kaikoura with rope and a buoy entangled around it.

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A juvenile humpback whale did not move once as three Marlborough men spent 45 minutes on Friday night working to free the whale from a rope and craypot buoy wrapped around its tail.

The whale was at centre of a failed bid by the Department of Conservation on Friday afternoon to free it from a rope and craypot buoy wrapped around its tail.

Plans to re-start the rescue Saturday morning were abandoned when Madsen Marine owner Scott Madsen told the department he and two of his staff had freed the whale after it became tangled in a Tory Channel mussel farm late Friday night.

Mr Madsen told The Marlborough Express he, skipper Martin Cunniffe and deckhand Jason Watson ''put two and two together'' that noises below the mussel farm in Hitaua Bay and the presence of more buoys than usual could mean the presence of the whale. Mr Madsen holds a contract to harvest mussels on the farm.

The department had attached extra buoys to the whale so they could easily find it on Saturday.

He contacted the department, but they told him they could not get out to the farm until the next day, Mr Madsen said.

The trio watched the whale struggle to free itself for two hours before deciding to take action, he said.

''It was getting tireder and tireder. It was going to be no danger, it was hardly even swimming at the end ... we all wanted to do something.''

They managed to get a rope around the whale's tail and used a crane to carefully bring it to the surface.

''[Mr Watson] then quietly cut the ropes from its tail. It never moved. It just sat there and let us do it.''

It was ''pretty cool'' watching the whale swim away after it was freed.

Their decision to help was based on their fact they had the right equipment to help the whale, he said.

''It wasn't something we undertook lightly or something we suggest anyone else does. We just realised we had the right gear to do it ... I just knew we could do it.''

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- The Marlborough Express

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