Those who gathered on Ruakaka Beach treated the dead pilot whales with respect.
© Kristin Edge
Those who gathered on Ruakaka Beach treated the dead pilot whales with respect.
It was a nervous wait overnight for conservation staff who were to patrol Ruakākā Beach early this morning following the stranding and death of four pilot whales.

The four adult pilot whales, part of a pod of 30, beached and were found by joggers about 2km south of the Ruakākā Surf Lifesaving club about 6.30am yesterday.

Three were dead but one was still fighting for survival when they were discovered.

Despite community members rallying quickly, by righting the whale and keeping it wet and calm it too died shortly before 7.30am.


The pod remained in the area for a couple of hours threatening to come ashore at high tide about 10am.

Doctor Cat Peters, a marine mammal ranger based in the Bay of Islands, was co-ordinating the operation and was nervously watching the pod which swam as close as 200m to the shore in water just 10m deep.

A spotter plane and two boats were used to follow the pod until it was confirmed they had moved off the Ruakākā shoreline leaving their deceased pod members behind.

Peters said a sweep of the beach would be done today and hopefully the pod had remained at sea. It was unclear why they had stranded.

"It's always an emotional time for people when whales strand like this. I think everyone here can be proud that they have done all that we can for them and treated them with respect," Peters said.

Late yesterday Ingrid Visser, of the Orca Research Trust, had tracked the pod of 26 from Ruakākā south towards Mangawhai Heads where she said they stopped, milled about, and made a beeline towards the shore.

"It's nerve-wracking following them. Hopefully, they continue to head offshore," Visser said.

Fortunately, they headed offshore again and were headed towards Little Barrier Island.
However, a pod of about 30 offshore bottlenose dolphins had joined the pod and they had split into two groups.

"It's not unusual for the dolphins and whales to mix like this."

Iwi members stay with the dead whales in the small surf at Ruakaka Beach.
© Michael Cunningham
Iwi members stay with the dead whales in the small surf at Ruakaka Beach.
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