Pygmy whales strand on beach

By MERVYN DYKES - Manawatu Standard | Friday, 04 April 2008

SAM BAKER/Manawatu Standard
WHALE OF A BATTLE: The expression on the face of DOC worker Logan Brown, of Wanganui, centre, says it all as the fight to save the second of two stranded pygmy sperm whales enters its final stage at Himatangi Beach yesterday.

Rescue workers battled heavy surf for seven hours yesterday in a desperate attempt to save two pygmy sperm whales stranded on Himatangi Beach.

One escaped back to sea.
The other's struggle was ended with a mercy bullet late in the afternoon.
"We have reached the point that we all hate," said Department of Conservation ranger Jim Campbell, of Wanganui, as a group of DOC staff and Himatangi residents clustered about the second whale in shallow water.
"We've given it our best crack, but she's so tired and stressed that she can't register anything and won't make it out against the incoming tide.
"She's too tired. She's given up. In the natural course of events, she would die."
The section of beach was closed off while the last stage of the drama was played out.
A digger was brought in to bury the carcase after skin samples were taken.
The distressed whales were spotted by fisherman Kerry Solomon about 8am when he was rigging his kontiki raft to catch snapper.
"At first I thought it was a chilly bin in the surf," he said. "Then I saw a tail flapping away."
He set off across the beach to telephone for help.
"On the way I looked back and saw a pod of about 20 to 30 whales - they looked like Orca - about 300 to 400 metres offshore."
When help arrived from fishermen and Himatangi residents, the smaller of the two whales - "he was still bigger than your car" - responded quickly to attempts to guide it to safety.
"The whale made it through the surf and kept on going out to sea," Mr Solomon said. But the larger whale kept turning across the surf of the outgoing tide.
Time and again it was brought to the brink of safety, only to turn away and swim northward parallel to the beach.
Palmerston North DOC biodiversity manager Vivienne McGlynn said the whales were possibly a mother and calf.
The biggest one was about 3m long, which was fairly typical for an adult pygmy sperm whale.
The rescuers were seeking to herd it to safety rather than drag it through the waves, Ms McGlynn said.
Surfboarders, a kayaker and a jetski rider helped with the shepherding.
The swimmers and waders in the surf spelled each other out as they became tired and cold.
"My daughter should come out," one woman said. "She's been in too long.
"It's just that she lost the last whale she tried to help and she wants to fight for this one all the way."