Whales swimming away from spit

Praise for Project Jonah Volunteers

Last updated 13:00 22/01/2014
Whale stranded
YOUNG HAND: Keira Fenemor, aged 3, helps a whale stranded at Farewell Spit.

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A pod of whales that have been refloated three times since the weekend may have a happy ending after all, but the rescues have not been without danger.

Department of Conservation ranger Greg Napp said he observed a pod yesterday afternoon swimming off Pohara, saying this was likely the same 45 whales refloated on Monday. About 62 whales stranded early on Saturday morning and again on Sunday.

Some died in stressful conditions and others were put down.

Mr Napp said the pod he spotted were about 2 kilometres offshore and swimming in around 10 metres of water. "If it is the same group, then it looks like they've swum across the bay and they're on their way out."

DOC conservation services manager John Mason said one staff member sustained a shoulder injury after being hit by a whale's tail yesterday. The employee was walking behind the whale when it flicked its tail up and hit them.

Mr Mason said the staff member took the rest of the day off work but was back on the job today.

"It's a reminder of the need to be careful around these animals as they can move and react unexpectedly."

Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said his volunteers had left the spit yesterday afternoon. He praised the volunteers who had turned out, saying 250 people had shown up to the biggest day on Monday.

Mr Grover said there had been a minor accident where two people had collided while helping a whale, but whales had caused no injury directly.

The 5-metre pilot whales could appear aggressive to members of the public when they were stressed and thrashing, he said. Volunteers were briefed on whale behaviour before the rescue operations began, and told to be careful around the animals' tail, fins, eyes, blowhole and teeth.

Project Jonah no longer allows its volunteers to work at night following an incident 20 years ago when a Golden Bay woman was knocked out by a whale.

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- The Nelson Mail

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