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A whale of a tale in Hatfields

Posted at 10:00am Friday 30 Apr, 2021

Officers learn to float a two-tonne inflatable whale.
Officers learn to float a two-tonne inflatable whale.

Mangawhai’s senior constable Rob Cato digs out a 200kg dolphin.
Mangawhai's senior constable Rob Cato digs out a 200kg dolphin.

In a national first, northern police were trained how to respond to whale strandings this month.

Officers from Wellsford, Warkworth, Orewa, Kumeu and Helensville stations spent the day with Project Jonah, a whale rescue charity, at Hatfield's Beach.

The marine mammal medic workshop was held with a life-size inflatable whale and dolphin, both filled with water to closer resemble the true weight of a real animal.

It was organised in response to a controversial rescue in Mangawhai Heads this month.

Former All Black Ali Williams and Auckland businessman Nick Mowbray were shown in footage on social media attempting to haul a stranded false killer whale out by its tale.

According to Project Jonah, it is “incredibly dangerous” to handle a whale's tale and can cause it “significant damage”.

Police say the aim of the training was to give officers the tools to keep stranded marine mammals alive until specialist help arrives.

“Our staff across the country, particularly in rural coastal areas, are often among the first to know about strandings, so it makes sense for them to be able to help.”

Rural area manager senior Sergeant Roger Small said the team thoroughly enjoyed the day and attracted plenty of attention at the beach.

“Some local roofers sent someone down to offer their help, as they thought it was a real stranding.”

Project Jonah's Louise Hawkes says strandings occur all over the region.

“In recent years, we have had orca strandings at Te Arai Point, dolphins in Mangawhai Heads and often seals and whales at Muriwai,” Ms Hawkes says.

New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world at around 300 each year. DOC has the legal authority in a stranding, but is assisted by other agencies.

Project Jonah teaches basic first aid for whales. Course attendees are taught to pour water over whales with a focus on flippers, fins and flukes (tails). Whales are then covered with a light colour white sheet.

If possible, whales should be rolled upright and held in position with sandbags.

Once the tide comes in, whales can be carefully re-floated using lifting mats, if required, and cautiously walked into deeper water.

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