Whale of a challenge confronts Far North rescuers

Department of Conservation staff battle rough seas and on-shore winds in their effort to prevent the whale from coming ashore. Photo / Department of Conservation
Department of Conservation staff battle rough seas and on-shore winds in their effort to prevent the whale from coming ashore. Photo / Department of Conservation

A rescue operation was under way last night to save a sperm whale stranded at Coopers Beach in the Far North.

The 10m-long mammal was about 20m offshore at the eastern end of the beach and being dragged closer to the shore by the incoming tide.

Department of Conservation ranger William Macrae, who was involved in the rescue last year of a humpback whale tangled in rope off Doubtless Bay, said it was either a female or a juvenile male. Females grow to about 12m, males to 18m.

The plan late yesterday afternoon was to place a length of lightweight netting behind the whale and fix one end to a DoC boat and the other to Far North Coastguard Radio's rescue boat.

The whale was too heavy to drag out to sea but it was hoped that the boats could keep the netting taut and stop it being washed any closer to shore. Then, as the tide rose, it might be able to free itself and swim away.

The technique has been used successfully in Tasmania.

One of the complications with yesterday's rescue was the size and power of the whale, especially its tail - making it dangerous for rescuers to get too close.

They also had to deal with heavy rain and wind gusts as high tide approached about 7pm.

In August last year, 58 pilot whales stranded at Doubtless Bay's Karikari Beach. Thirteen were eventually refloated at Maitai Bay on the other side of the peninsula. Nine survived. The following month, more than 70 pilot whales stranded at Spirits Bay, near Cape Reinga.

- APNZ

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