Big effort to save little whale

20:39, Feb 18 2013
dead whale
FUTILE: Locals tried in vain to save a beached pygmy sperm whale in Raglan.

A secretive deep-water mammal washed up on a public beach on Sunday where repeated attempts to refloat it proved futile.

Senior Raglan lifeguard Debbie Phillips-Morgan was sitting on Ngarunui Beach just after noon when she noticed something thrashing in the waves.

She said it was about halfway along the beach and it looked like a "large dolphin".

It turned out to be a 2.7-metre pygmy sperm whale.

Ms Phillips-Morgan, a vet, fellow lifeguards and volunteers covered the animal with wet towels.

The tide was rising.


They turned the whale around and started pushing it out to sea.

Ms Phillips-Morgan said it gained strength and tried to edge itself into deeper water.

"We sent it on its merry way," she said.

"It did a couple of circles around us and beached itself a couple of hundred metres down the beach."

The troop of about 10 rescuers regrouped.

This time they tried to get a blanket underneath the mammal's bruised belly.

Things looked promising second time round.

"We put it on its merry way and it went out through the two sets of breakers and we thought, fine, it's on its way. But lo and behold another 200 metres up the beach it came back in again."

Ms Phillips-Morgan said she and the rescuers had "connected with the mammal" through the ordeal and felt "hurt and sorrow" for it knowing the inevitable may come.

More attempts to refloat the animal at the harbour entrance yielded the same result.

Department of Conservation ranger Garry Hickman said pygmy whales are secretive and little is known about them.

When in danger, they expel a reddish brown intestinal fluid to aid their escape.

They are fully grown at 3.5m long.

Mr Hickman said the would-be rescuers did everything they could to save the whale.

After one last liberation attempt the call was made to euthanase the whale.

After a karakia from kaumatua, Mr Hickman shot it with a rifle.

Another karakia preceded its burial.

Mr Hickman has no idea why the animal washed ashore.

"Animals must get crook like people do and they just want to lie down and die somewhere. That's just nature, I guess."