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On the 1st October 1991, 30-33 pilot whales stranded near Shipwreck Bay.  When discovered 18 were already dead.  The remaining animals were kept wet until they could be moved (high surf conditions prevented release at the stranding site).  The whales were trucked to Taipa in Doubtless Bay (approximately 50 km away) and released.  This two day rescue event was one of the first in New Zealand where whales were trucked from the site of the stranding to the release location.

Approximately 50 members of the public along with another 50 volunteers from various organisations kept the whales wet.  Unfortunately there was only limited rescue equipment available to help move the whales.  Additionally, it took nine hours after the after the rescue operation began, for the equipment to arrive.
On the 2nd of October , after 30 hours on the beach, the 14 surviving whales were lifted aloft by log- loader on to three trucks.  The beds of the trucks were lined with hay to cushion the ride and hay bales were used to help keep the whales upright during their journey.
Our Whale Rescue Co-founder, Ingrid Visser as well as our Technical Advisor Steve Whitehouse attended and assisted at this rescue.  They rode on the back of the trucks with the whales to keep them calm and to keep watering them during the 50 km drive.  Along the way the procession halted twice (a roadside drain and a stream) to collect water to keep the tiring whales wet.  The convoy was escorted by the police to ensure a speedy but safe journey was possible for the whales.
The whales survived the 90- minute journey in good shape, and were lowered into the water at the Taipa River mouth.  Two of the whales escaped from their helpers and swam out of the river and beached themselves on Tokerau Beach five kilometres away. They were put on to the Rescue Pontoons (designed by Steve Whitehouse) and successfully refloated and released out to sea with the rest of the survivors.
Meanwhile the stranding of a further six pilot whales on 90 Mile Beach received very little media attention.  Only two of these survived and both were transported to Taipa in a similar fashion and subsequently released.
By the 4th of October two whales washed up dead on Tokerau Beach but it was unclear if they were from the first or second cohort of survivors.   The end result was that 12 whales had been saved.

Quick Facts

Name Pilot whale, long-finned
Pilot whale, long-finned
Suborder Odontoceti
Family Delphinidae
Max. size - Male 6.7 m (21.9 ft)
Max. size - Female 5.7 m (18.7 ft)
Calf size 1.7-1.8 m (5.5-5.9 ft)
Max. weight - Male 2,300 kg
Max. weight - Female 1,300 kg
Calf weight 75 kg
Food primary food is squid, but known to take fish
Latin name Globicephala melas
Location Shipwreck Bay, Ahipara, 90 Mile Beach
Latitude -35.17106
Longitude 173.10495
Number of Whales 30-33
Number rescued/saved 14
At this rescue

Dr. Ingrid N. Visser – Whale Rescue Co-Founder

Dr. Ingrid N. Visser – Whale Rescue Co-Founder

Ingrid has attended numerous mass and individual strandings.  She is experienced in sampling and data collection at these events, and in the use of refloatation Rescue Pontoons and other rescue equipment.  She has served on the Board and was a trainer for another stranding rescue group.


Steve Whitehouse – Technical Advisor

Steve Whitehouse – Technical Advisor

From a background as the NZ Whale Rescue Coordinator and a Fisheries Officer, Steve went on to design and implement both the Marine Mammal Medic (MMM) course, including full procedure manuals and the Whale Rescue Refloatation Pontoon System in the 1980s.  Originally designed to train DoC staff and authorities in effective whale rescue techniques, Steve later redeveloped the MMM course for the layperson.


With special thanks to

The local people (at both the stranding and release sites) who spent so much time and effort helping these whales.

The Police for their support and escort.

Department of Conservation staff who were willing to give the arduous transporting of the whale a try.

The Northern Advocate newspaper (& John Stone) - for the use of their photographs.

Location of Rescue

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