Crowd control for a pilot whale giving birth was a first for Sergeant Garry Larsen who is patrolling the Bay of Islands as part of the Police Maritime Unit.

And the experienced officer with 20 years in the maritime unit said the "unique callout" was definitely a better work story.

A team of officers have been in the Bay of Islands over the busy Christmas and New Year period carrying out routine tasks such as checking for lifejackets and warning boaties about their speed. But it seems their brief has been extended to crowd control for birthing whales.

A pod of about 20 pilot whales swam into Deep Water Cove, 6km southwest from Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands, about 8am on Wednesday.


At first boaties in the area, where the Canterbury wreck is located, thought the pod was about to strand.

"Spy hoping" during the birth of a pilot whale in Deep Water Cove. Photo / Cat Peters

The police patrol and Department of Conservation staff were contacted and were on the scene about 10am.

"One of the whales was calving so we had to keep the boaties away. We had to stop one vessel heading over to the pod and getting too close and direct them away," Larsen said.

Dr Cat Peters, a marine mammal ranger based in the Bay of Islands, said the pod were displaying behaviours consistent with stranding as they were bunching together and rolling on their backs.

But on closer inspection they discovered one of the females was calving.

"We witnessed the birth and got to see the baby while they hung around for about half an hour after. Then they headed at some speed out to the deep water."

Peters said working with the help of police ensured the safety of the whales and made it easier to keep boaties the correct distance away.

And last Friday DoC and maritime police worked together to educate boaties as they followed a pod of seven orca from near the entrance to the Bay through to Opua.


"They were feeding on stingrays as they went up the harbour. We were able to talk with the boaties and hand out safety packs which included teaching people about the safe distance to be from marine life."

The distance is 50m from orca and pilot whales and at least 200m away from any baleen or sperm whale mother and calf.

While not on whale duties the police team, in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat usually based in Auckland, have been checking boaties have been wearing lifejackets and keeping to speed limits.

DoC and police working together at Deep Water Cove in the Bay of Islands to keep boaties clear of a pilot whale giving birth. Photo / T.Guerin TriOceans
DoC and police working together at Deep Water Cove in the Bay of Islands to keep boaties clear of a pilot whale giving birth. Photo / T.Guerin TriOceans

Northland bylaws prohibit speeds of more than 5 knots (9km/h) within 200m of a dive flag or the shore and 50m from any swimmer. And those in vessels smaller than 6m have to wear lifejackets.

Larsen said most people had been compliant this summer however just this week two people spotted fishing in a 3.6m tinnie were directed back to shore to get lifejackets before they could continue fishing.

"There have been a number of preventable drownings here in Northland already this summer. In most cases if they had been wearing a lifejacket they could have been rescued and still be alive," Larsen said.

"We are here to make people safe and the reaction from the majority of people we have spoken to has been positive."

Last summer season the most serious incidents were an on-water police chase, complete with lights and sirens, sparked by a catamaran speeding past dive flags at 40 knots (74km/h). The offending catamaran was powered by four 300hp outboards so it took the length of the Bay for the police to catch up.

The police boat also patrolled moorings and DoC campgrounds on Urupukapuka Island.