Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Four whales die but one saved

Department of Conservation officials take blood samples from each of the dead whales. Photo / Natalie Slade.
Department of Conservation officials take blood samples from each of the dead whales. Photo / Natalie Slade.

Four whales stranded at Port Waikato yesterday are to be buried in sand dunes just metres from where they lay.

But another beached whale has been saved.

Residents in the area woke to find the pod of five Gray's beaked whales beached near the Okarahia section of Port Waikato beach.

They were spotted about 5am and authorities were called as locals rallied to do what they could to save the stranded animals.

Four of the five whales died but residents managed to refloat the other one.

Kaumatua Tiki Reihana said locals worked for about an hour and a half to get the whale back into the water.

"It was a struggle, I tell you. [The rescuers] were pushing and pushing but it was hard.

"Once they got it out over the break it was okay, it went back to sea."

The only worry now is if that whale was to become stranded again in the same spot or on another part of the beach.

A blessing was conducted at the site by members of the local hapu.

Mr Reihana, 68, has lived in the area all his life and it was the first time he had seen whales stranded on the beach.

Looking down at the carcasses, he shook his head.

"Very sad. It's not something you want to see."

At the beach yesterday, Department of Conservation officials took blood samples from each of the dead whales, and a large group of people gathered to take a closer look.

Many smiled and posed for photos in front of the carcasses, while others patted them solemnly.

DoC technical support officer Kristina Hillock said that although the Gray's beaked whales were discovered at 5am, it was not yet known exactly how long they had been beached and it was possible they had been there overnight.

"We arrived at 11am, after locals and lifeguards refloated one of them," she said.

"It's not nice when this happens but nobody knows why whales strand themselves."

Gray's beaked whales can grow up to 5.7m and have a distinctive long, slender beak.

They regularly strand on New Zealand beaches.

There was a mass stranding of 28 whales in the 1800s, according to the Beaked Whale Resource website.

In August last year, 58 whales became stranded on Karikari Beach in the Far North. Forty-nine of them eventually died.

Last September, in another mass stranding, 70 pilot whales came ashore at Spirits Bay, at the top of the North Island. On that occasion, 14 were saved.

Additional reporting: NZPA

- NZ Herald

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