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A whale of an experience.
24 November 2014

One of the joys of outdoor recreation is that you never quite know who or what you will be sharing the space with.

On rare occasions who or what that turns out to be can be quite a surprise.

As a case in point, regular users of the salt water portion of the Whakatane and Ohiwa Harbour Gem certainly hadn’t expected that they would have more than 80 pilot whales become stranded on November 4.

Pilot whales are extremely rare in the harbour and few, if any, strandings - let alone mass ones - have been recorded.

But, as we saw, anything is possible and the beaching of these magnificent mammals left an indelible impression on those who encountered them as their life and death drama unfolded over the following three days.

Ultimately about 30 of the pod was saved, largely due to the efforts of local folk who took to the water in recreational craft, the most accessible of which were kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

Sadly the remaining 50 or so perished in spite of the best efforts of an army of volunteers from across the region.

Many tears have been shed on behalf of those ill-fated animals and for many people there is a real desire to be better equipped for the next time – if, there ever is one.

In a wee bit of an irony, the mass whale stranding also fell in Conservation Week – a time during which my colleagues and I try and encourage people to explore what’s in their backyards, learn something new and maybe commit to taking some action to help the situation.

Mostly that’s about showing people how working with a community group to kill predators, remove weeds or otherwise protect the environment can make the world a better place.

That is, after all, the routine stuff; the bread and butter work that helps sustains the conservation gains.

I guess saving whales is a bit more compelling, except when there’s no beached whales there’s not much call for it.

Even when there is, it more often more brings sorrow than joy as the majority of whales end up dying.

I reckon giving the whales a helping hand before they get into trouble might be the way to go.

It just takes a bit of “spider that swallowed the fly” logic.

Possums in our forests eat the canopy and kill the trees.

This lets more water get to the ground.

The more water that gets to the ground the faster soil is washed into the harbours and the harder it is for the tides to flush it out to sea.

This leads to more sandbars and decreases the depth of the harbours.

The shallower harbours more easily trap the whales.

So there’s this month’s challenge to you:  join one of the community groups in the Virtually On Track listings, help protect an on-land ecosystem and just maybe you’ll be saving a whale.

This post was written by

Steve Brightwell - who has written 17 posts

Steve Brightwell is a partnership ranger with the Department of Conservation.

He has been a part of the Virtually On Track team from the project's inception.

Steve lives in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, has a communications background, and is a weekend warrior of modest multisport ability.

The views he expresses for this blog are his own and do not necessarily reflect or imply official policy of the Department of Conservation.

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