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Northland buzzing after whales' great escape

Saturday 25 Sep 2010 7:53 a.m.

he whales were part of a pod of an estimated 74 that stranded at Spirits Bay

he whales were part of a pod of an estimated 74 that stranded at Spirits Bay

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Exhausted whale rescuers are getting some sleep today after watching 14 rescued pilot whales swimming strongly out to sea late last night.

The whales were in a pod of 24 taken by truck from Spirits Bay, near Cape Reinga in the Far North, to Rarawa Beach, about 50km to the south.

Two died on the trucks, one died on the beach and another seven were put down on the beach when it was apparent they could not survive. The other 14 were heading out to sea and swimming strongly, said Mike Simpson, from Project Jonah.

Like all whale rescues it was an emotional time for the many people who turned up to help, he said.

Mr Simpson says whales are intelligent animals and would have known people were trying to help, particularly after they had been rolled upright and had calmed down.

"When they realise the people are helping them, they calm down quite quickly."

Trained whale rescuers knew how to keep them calm by talking or singing to them, Mr Simpson said.

"Lots of people talk to them all the time, they sing to them and they (whales) have got really good hearing both in and out of the water. They seem to sense or know we are not trying to hurt them, we are trying to help them."

Many people were in tears when whales were first stranded and when they were rescued.

It was important to get stranded whales upright so they could breathe properly through their blowholes, he said.

"Part of the reason, when they are thrashing around in the water, why so many died early on in the stranding is that those animals would have drowned.

"They would have been on their sides. They know if their blowholes open they would get full of water so they actually close their blowholes and they suffocate themselves."

Strandings were always very emotional and as people left Rarawa Beach late last night "the whole place was buzzing with energy about what they had achieved. It is emotional", Mr Simpson said.

There were many reasons whales stranded but pilot whales were a close society with strong family bonds. If one animal was weak or sick it could beach itself because it knew if it stopped swimming it would drown.

"Often they beach themselves and the other might try and come in to help them. They won't leave an animal which has a problem."

Mr Simpson said anyone discovering a stranded whale should call 0800 DOCHOT, keep the animal cool, roll it upright and try to keep it calm by talking or singing gently to it.

Last night rescuers had to herd the whales back out to sea at Rarawa Beach as they tried to re-strand themselves.

The whales were part of a pod of about 74 that stranded at Spirits Bay, east of Cape Reinga on Wednesday morning.

About 200 people were involved in the rescue.


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