Whale strife: Elation turns to sorrow

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2013
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A rare whale calf stranded and then refloated at Omaui after an all-night community effort to save it, was shot yesterday afternoon after it beached again and was deemed to be suffering too much to survive a second rescue attempt.

Department of Conservation Southland area manager Andy Roberts said it would have been cruel to wait until high tide - about 10pm last night - to try to refloat the whale calf again.

"Its discomfort was too great. It would have been cruel to leave it suffering."

The calf appeared to have been attacked by a shark and might have come close to shore to find safety, he said.

A second whale nearly beached on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Roberts said the beaked whale travelled as a family with the female as the alpha leader.

The DOC team had speculated the second whale might have been the calf's mother.

As many as four whales were spotted nearby as volunteers worked to get it back in the water on Saturday afternoon until yesterday afternoon. They left soon after the calf was shot by a DOC worker, just after 2.30pm, Mr Roberts said.

There were people on the beach when the whale was destroyed, but most had been part of the initial refloating attempts, after DOC was alerted at about 4pm Saturday.

"They could also see the whale was suffering," he said.

The 8-metre whale calf was believed to be a beaked whale Arnoux sub-species, which was relatively rare, Mr Roberts said.

It had not been determined if it was a male or female calf because it was difficult to determine without an internal autopsy, he said.

Yesterday, the more than 15 DOC workers and volunteers were shivering but jubilant after refloating the whale at about 9am after being in the water with the calf, some of them for hours.

Hands shaking with cold and with towels wrapped around them, they drank hot soup and ate pies. Many had brought their families with them to watch from the beach.

DOC marine technical adviser Greig Funnell was in the water from about 6.30am.

The priority had been to protect the calf's flippers until the tide was high enough for the calf to swim. This was the first time he had come to the aid of a beached whale, he said.

The attempted rescue was also a first for DOC biodiversity ranger, Trevor Huggins, who said it was the first time in his career he had seen a whale stranded.

Bluff Coast Guard volunteer Rhys Ferguson had also been with the whale for four hours and described what it was like to hear the whale "talk" in chirps, before it was sent back out to sea.

Volunteers watched from the beach as the calf rejoined the pod of whales spotted off the coast.

But about noon Mr Roberts said DOC had been alerted to a whale beached at Omaui again; an hour later he was able to confirm it was the same calf.

By 2pm they made the call to destroy the calf.

"It is a sad story. But the highlight was seeing how the local community and iwi came together and work really hard to try and save it. They gave it their best shot."

DOC will consult with Southland iwi regarding the whale remains.

The carcass will be left on the beach where it stranded the second time.

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It was in an inaccessible place, and nature would be able to take its course, Mr Roberts said.

- The Southland Times

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