Workers, public learn to save whales

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by Chris Tobin

PrimePort Timaru staff were among trainees in a whale rescue course at Caroline Bay last week.

Project Jonah held a course for port staff as well as Department of Conservation (Doc) staff on Thursday, followed by another for the general public on Saturday.

“I think it’s quite new for the port staff but they have got keen after June with the whale rescue here,” Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said.

“The Doc staff at Geraldine have to cover everything from the mountains to the sea. They’re upskilling some of their team as well.”

The course trained people to go into “autopilot” mode and follow correct procedure when coming across beached and distressed whales.

After an on-land backgrounder, participants took to the water for a more hands-on exercise handling a replica whale.

“It’s important that people understand the complexity of strandings, why they happen and what they can do to help,” Mr Grover said.

On Saturday, 30 people took part in the course.

On a miserable day in June this year a dramatic scene unfolded on the beach at Caroline Bay after a large sperm whale became stranded.

Hundreds of people watched as a fishing boat with a mooring line and a strop around the whale’s body attempted to pull it into the water.

This failed and the rescuers lost the tide. The rescue went on throughout the day. Diggers were then sent in and maintained a line on the whale into the evening.

At 6.30pm, as the tide came in, the whale unstuck itself from the sand, and from there it was shepherded past the North Mole by the Coastguard before slipping into deeper water.

It was only the third successful refloating of a sperm whale in New Zealand, Mr Grover said.

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