Two Gray’s beaked whales have died after stranding at Northland’s Waipu Cove, despite some initial success getting them back to sea.
Whangarei-based Conservation Department ranger David Thonig said six whales stranded on the beach at 12.45pm Saturday.
Rescuers managed to re-float five of them and get them back out to sea, but one whale remained on the beach. The group later returned and restranded. Two had since died.
Aucklander Robert Johnson said he was boogie-boarding and swimming with his two children when they saw what they thought were five dolphins go by and straight on to the beach.
Johnson said the whales had what looked like cricket ball-sized wounds on their bodies, which a DOC scientist had said were caused by cookie-cutter sharks.
Initial speculation the wounds may have caused the deaths was downplayed by Conservation Department marine mammalogist Kirsty Russell, who said it was not unusual for whales to have wounds from cookie-cutter sharks.
“The sharks follow them cutting slits in them until they bleed to death and then they eat them.”
She said stranding, not the wounds, was the cause of death.
Johnson said he and other bystanders immediately tried to push the whales back into the water and out to sea but they kept coming back.
He said it had been an emotional time for the children who helped, many of whom were in tears when the whales died.
“It was an experience that went from fantastic, being surrounded by these whales and thinking ‘this is really cool’, but then they beached and it went from wonderful to terrible.”
A blue penguin was also found washed ashore.
DoC staff at the scene said there had been a spate of strandings.
Three whales were stranded at Golden Bay last month.
Te Papa mammal collection manager Anton van Helden said scientists believed whales came in-shore in certain kinds of weather.
A Tasmanian study showed there was a local correlation between mass strandings and weather cycles, he said. Individual strandings happened all year round, but mass strandings tended to occur around New Zealand during November, December and January, when the sea was warmer.
Russell said the two dead female whales were being removed from the beach and local iwi would dispose of the bodies.
Image: BRENDON O’HAGAN/Sunday Star Times