A documentary about a major whale stranding on the Northland coast that never made it to air has been posted on YouTube.

Sixteen years ago film-maker Bryan Norton made a film, Rescue 101, about 101 pilot whales stranding at Karikari Beach, in the Far North.

The Kiwi cameraman/director who is now based in London rediscovered the documentary during a clean-out. The 44-minute movie combines elements of drama, excitement and heartbreak, he says.

More than half the pod in the October 1997 stranding died before would-be rescuers even reached them, but 48 were successfully refloated the following day. However, 39 became stranded again after the next high tide. Twenty were refloated the same day although one pregnant female had to be put down. Author Leslie Kenton narrates the story of the battle to save the whales' lives. Also featured are interviews with the people and conservation groups involved in the rescue, as well as marine experts who explain some of the theories behind the whales' behaviour. The sound track includes music from Tim Wheaters' album Whale Songs.


The same beach was the site of another mass stranding in August 2010. Thirteen of the 58 pilot whales were refloated at Maitai Bay on the other side of the peninsula. Nine eventually made it out to sea.

You can watch the documentary below.