Taurikura has had a visit from a mermaid - a Gray's Beaked whale which was first reported by residents as having gunshot wounds when it stranded.

Thankfully the young female, dubbed "Merida" after her Whangarei stranding yesterday morning, had not been shot but had week-old cookie cutter shark bites.

Merida was spotted on the shore by Taurikura resident Rosemarie Cooke, who saw the struggling whale from her lounge.

"At first, I thought it was a dolphin. It came in so close, on it own ... it was distressed ... I knew that wasn't normal."


When Ms Cooke got into the water, she realised it was too big to be a dolphin. Daughter Toni McKay ran back to the house and called the Department of Conservation for help.

"While Toni rang for help, I stayed with the whale. I know she was comforted by me ... she swam away and came back again, staying close to me for that hour."

The whale then got stuck on high rocks, injuring herself and filling the surrounding water with blood.

"It was awful, we were in tears, and so relieved to see Ingrid Visser and DoC arrive," she said.

Whale expert Dr Visser and the DoC and Whale Watch team were able to place a mat under the whale to prevent further cutting on the rocks.

"She immediately calmed down," said Dr Visser, who said the whales were not uncommon in Northland. She said the size of the mammal and the absence of teeth led her to believe it was female, as only the males have teeth.

The team, with some help from locals and a high, noon tide, then placed a rescue pontoon under the whale - a floating stretcher which uses the water's buoyancy - to lift the heavy beast, a feat eight volunteers were unable to do.

The pontoon, Dr Visser said, was comforting too as the pressure on her sides made her feel like she was escorted to deep water by other whales.


This was Dr Visser's sixth Gray's Beaked whale rescue. There was no official count of the whales, as they are a deep water creature.

"There were three males stranded at Ruakaka this time last year, one at Helena Bay six years ago and three at McGregor's Bay 25 years ago.

"They get stranded for a number of reasons - they're injured, sick or disoriented. There was nothing obvious to cause this that I could see. The bites were at least a week old, they wouldn't have caused her stranding," Dr Visser said.

The team of six towed the rescue pontoon and whale passenger 5km out to sea, where the water was at least 30m deep.

"The crew kept talking to her and kept her calm. They called her Merida, because she came to shore like a mermaid and has a lovely mermaid's tail," said Dr Visser.

Luke Beaven, 8, from Albany in Auckland was staying at a family bach in Taurikura with parents Annette and Anthony and watched the entire drama unfold.


He said he had never seen a rescue like this and he was thrilled the story had a happy ending, thanks in part to his dad jumping in the water to help out.

Whale sightings can be reported to Dr Visser on 0800 SEE ORCA.