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Two marine mammals stranded

Over the past two months, two marine mammals have been beached on Wairarapa’s shores – one survived, and one died.

Longtime fisherman Pete Lam Sam said that he had an “out of this world” experience after spotting what he thought was a dead tuna when he was out riding a quad bike along Lake Ferry Beach last Thursday [June 13].

“I got a bit closer and, behold, it was a little dolphin”, he said.

“I was pleasantly surprised to hear it still breathing.

“I thought, ‘Wow, what do I do here?’ – it is sort of humbling when you come across another mammal.”

The juvenile dolphin was three metres from the tideline and looked to have beached itself, he said.

“He wasn’t in any distress, but, when I picked him up, he was quite hot.

“It kind of puts you into rescue mode… I thought, ‘I’ve got to get him in the water ASAP’.”

Lam Sam said that after nine attempts to return the dolphin to the ocean, he stood soaking wet with gumboots full of water while watching “in awe” as the dolphin swam south.

He said it was a heartwarming experience that was made special because he had never encountered anything like it in 60 years of fishing.

“I would have done what anyone would have done,” he said.

Department of Conservation [DoC] senior ranger community Ronnie Priest said that it was unclear why the juvenile dolphin would have been stranded, but it had “likely” been separated from its pod.

“As it was a baby and reliant on its mother’s milk, it would not have survived on the beach,” she said.

“There are many theories as to why whales and dolphins strand, but in many cases, the cause is unknown and unlikely to be due to any one factor alone.

“Strandings occur all year round and usually involve just one or two animals, with DoC responding to an average of 85 stranding incidents per year.”

Exactly two months earlier, a small female killer whale calf washed ashore in rough seas on the coast near Riversdale Beach and was found in bad shape.

DoC Wairarapa operations manager Kathy Houkamau said that it was understood the whale had become separated from its pod and mother.

“The calf was in poor condition with multiple injuries when discovered and was still reliant on the mother for milk, so it would be unable to survive on its own,” she said.

“After talking to experts, euthanasia was decided to be the kindest option.”

Houkamau said that although the decision was “difficult for all involved”, DoC was “extremely grateful” to have iwi and community support for the difficult undertaking.

The whale was named Motukairangi by tangata whenua – who worked in collaboration with DoC – from Motuwairaka Marae [primary hapū Ngāi Tūmapuhia-a-Rangi] about 55km southeast of Masterton.

Whāngai [adopted] marae member Sam Ludden said whanau from the marae returned Motukairangi to where she was discovered, and she was blessed and buried on May 10.

“Returning Motukairangi to the moana [sea] brought us all together as kaitiaki [guardians] through our moment of mourning,” he said.

“It was quite a hearty experience shared, a special moment on a cold winter day.”

Houkamau said that orcas are the second-most widely distributed mammal on earth – after humans – and can be found all along New Zealand’s coastline.

Coastal waters are home to an estimated 150–200 whales, which travel long distances and are considered “nationally critical” [facing an immediate high risk of extinction].

    Report whale or dolphin strandings immediately to the emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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