You are here: HomeRescues → 1996, September 01, Bryde’s whale, Whangarei Harbour

Unfortunately the stress of remaining on the mud overnight proved too much for this whale and it suffered a heart attack and died when within sight of the lower reaches of the Harbour.  As far as we could ascertain this was the largest whale ever attempted to be refloated in New Zealand waters.  It also seems this is the first record of a Bryde’s whale inside the Whangarei Harbour.

Bryde's whales (pronounced brooders) is fairly common around northern New Zealand water, yet relatively little is known about them.  It appears that the individuals we see around our coastline are likely to be staying in the general vicinity, but may move slightly north to follow the warmer waters in winter.  It is not known why the Bryde's whale came so far into the Harbour.

Due to the deep and incredibly sticky mud the whale was stranded in the whale was in great danger of suffocating as it was lying on its side and was sinking into the mud.  Once the members from Whale Rescue arrived the whale was uprighted (and a 'path' of boards established next to the whale to allow the rescuers to walk alongside it and keep it wet.  The fire brigade arrived and provided pumped water and hoses which greatly aided in keep the whale cooled down.

In order to refloat the Bryde's whale three Rescue Pontoons (designed by Steve Whitehouse) were joined together and worked in tandem to lift the whale above the mud and allowed it to be moved as the tide returned.  It was deemed, by the Department of Conservation, too dangerous to attempt to move the whale down the harbour during the night, so it was held until first light.  It was then, whilst still in the pontoons, rafted between two boats and slowly towed down the harbour.  Unfortunately, when within sight of the lower reaches of the Harbour it suffered a heart attack and died.  A necropsy was performed and the heart attack noted.

Rescue Images
Quick Facts

Name Bryde’s whale
Bryde’s whale
Suborder Mysticeti
Family Balaenopteridae
Max. size - Male 15 m (49 ft)
Max. size - Female 16.5 m (54 ft)
Calf size 4 m (13 ft)
Max. weight - Female 40,000 kg
Food primary food is schooling fish, but may also take krill, squid and crustaceans
Latin name Balaenoptera brydei
Location Whangarei Harbour
Latitude -35.72893
Longitude 174.32948
Number of Whales 1
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

Department of Conservation provided a second boat to assist with guiding the whale, inside the pontoon system out towards the open ocean.

Location of Rescue

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