March 13th, 2016. An orca stranded at Patea Beach in South Taranaki overnight has died.
Department of Conservation operations manger for the Whanganui area Jasmine Hessell said the female whale had died in the early hours of Monday morning.
“There’s a team of DOC staff along with tangata whenua down there. They will bless the whale and then bury it,” she said.
“They’ll find a suitable place on the beach then dig a big whole and bury it.”
Samples would also be taken for testing, Hessell said (Ed Sibylline : for what ?).
The young female orca was found on the beach about 7.50pm, sparking a large rescue effort.
Department of Conservation’s biodiversity manager for the region, Jim Campbell, praised residents’ efforts to keep the whale alive.
“By the time we got here, the locals were doing quite a good job, actually. They’d righted her, and [were] keeping her wet, and had diggers and things here to try and create a channel, but [the whale] wasn’t very responsive at that stage,” he said.
“They did everything they possible could to hold it in the surf and see if it was going to respond, but it wasn’t responding really. There’s not a lot we could do. It’s getting dark, nature takes its course really.”
Campbell said it was “bloody near-impossible” to refloat whales when they stranded on Taranaki beaches.
“It’s just too hard, really too hard. With an orca, though, they’re quite tough, so they had a go, but they weren’t very successful.”
He said DOC would return with local iwi representatives on Monday morning and make a call on what to do.
Two of those helping out on the beach, Ngapari Nui and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said the entire community – from schoolkids to the local fire brigade – had pitched in to try to help.
“We were hoping to have a good story out of it, a good ending, but it wasn’t to be. But I think people in the community showed, anyway, that they’re going to treasure this moment, having participated and put a big effort in to try to save it,” Nui said.
Ngarewa-Packer said despite their best efforts, the whale was struggling.
“We all sort of had shifts to get in and get out to try and keep her afloat, and she got some distance, and I think then as the tide came in, it was quite strong, there was quite a shallow stretch, I think she was just tired, really tired,” she said.
“Everyone stayed out there as long as they could. I think if some of the guys could have stayed out there all night, they would have, but you could see it was just getting a bit dangerous to be out in the waves.”
Local police officer Constable Darren Hayes said there were about 100 people at the beach helping the rescue effort when he arrived, including at least a dozen who had got in the water to dig around the orca and help keep it wet.
Others, in wetsuits, were attempting to guide the whale back out to sea.
He said many others were just watching, “but really [it] was a community coming together to try and rescue and refloat it. Was great to watch”.
Earlier, rescuers said they planned to use a large digger to dig a trench in front of the orca and use the incoming tide to flood the trench and allow her to float and make her way back out to sea.
A call went out on social media for people with wetsuits to come down to the beach and assist in keeping the orca wet.
However, police asked that the public not help keep the whale wet and to stay well back, as the large crowd, the noise of the digger and the orca’s stranding has her stressed.
DOC had asked for police assistance to manage the growing crowd, which Inspector Ross Grantham said was inadvertently getting in the way of rescue efforts.
Due to the late hour, it was getting difficult to see and police are asking sightseers to stay away.
“People have all the right intentions, but they should wait until DOC ask them for help,” he said.