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Careful...Rescuers work to move the whale into deeper water. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Project Jonah is delighted how a rescue plan for a sperm whale stranded at Caroline Bay on Sunday was implemented.

The whale was sighted in the water just off the beach on Sunday morning.

Project Jonah, an organisation which rescues and protects whales, received a call just after 9am.

“I then contacted the Department of Conservation (Doc) and we formulated a plan,” Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said.

“Doc sent rangers and we have trained volunteers around the country. There were a couple of locals in Timaru.”

Help came also from PrimePort Timaru.

“We had an outgoing tide and had to move quickly. You can’t move a beached whale unless there is sufficient water around it.”

As the rescue began, dozens and soon hundreds of people watched the attempt throughout the day despite miserable wet weather.

“The plan involved using a powerful fishing boat with a mooring line and a strop around the whale’s body. We tried this and it was unsuccessful. We lost the tide.

“Then diggers came in; we maintained a line on the whale into the evening and at 6.30pm as the tide came in the whale unsuctioned itself off the sand.”

From there the whale was shepherded past the North Mole by the Coastguard before slipping into deeper water and disappearing into the darkness.

As of late Tuesday afternoon it had not been sighted since, even after a watch had been kept on northern beaches. The whale was last seen heading northwards.

“It’s very rare we get an opportunity to get an operation like this,” Mr Grover said.

“Every hour that passes our hopes are more positive.”

He said when whales were severely injured or in weak condition they usually returned to the beach but on this occasion this had not happened.

“Through social media channels and our network we will now keep an eye on the coast.”

Onlookers…Hundreds came and went throughout a miserable Sunday to watch the whale rescue at Caroline Bay. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

Mr Grover said a major concern rescuing a whale was health and safety.

“It’s very easy to damage a whale that is highly stressed and helpless and it can be dangerous to be around.”

He was delighted with the response of locals who late in the day brought food and drink for the rescuers.

However, earlier some people had been overly eager, rushing into the water to try to push the whale out to sea.

Mr Grover said rescuing whales was a highly specialised field but he understood how the public would be concerned.

“People find whales charismatic and are drawn to them.”

Department of Conservation operations manager Duncan Toogood said they monitored Caroline Bay and checked nearby beaches until Tuesday.

If anyone sighted the whale he said they should phone 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468).