Lucky ‘Lucy’ saved by locals at Marfells
New Zealand Defence Force personnel and local volunteers have banded together to free an orca stranded on a Marlborough beach for more than 24 hours.
The NZDF personnel and Project Jonah volunteers managed to drag the young marine mammal at high tide off Marfells Beach, near Seddon, about 1.30pm on Monday.
They used pontoons, or airbags, on either side of the orca to drag it into deep enough water, before it eventually swam off by itself.
The plan was for a boat from Picton to drag the animal that was discovered about 11.30am on Sunday out to sea, but the water was too rough.
The 6-metre juvenile, given the name ‘‘Lucy’’ by volunteers, was thought to weigh about 1.5 tonnes.
Department of Conservation staff, Project Jonah volunteers and medics had been working alongside locals to keep the animal alive.
About 25 military personnel arrived at the beach at 5.30am on Monday to build a trench to help drag the whale back out to sea at
"Because everyone was doing what they were told it was a really nice atmosphere and really positive." Volunteer Annabelle Latz
Project Jonah volunteer Kiah Greenland said it was ‘‘the best outcome we could have had’’.
She credited the hard work of the military and said it would not have been possible without their help.
Southern Katipo land component commander Brigadier Mike Shapland said the military received a call on Sunday night asking for people to help out, and each personnel member raised their hand to assist.
There was a ‘‘smorgasbord of military’’ helping out, including engineers and stewards, he said.
Shapland said it was a great way to help the community out and finish up their final week of Exercise Southern Katipo.
He hoped the orca would stay out at sea. ‘‘Nature will take its course now,’’ he said.
The Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser said while volunteers had to work to high tide, Lucy ultimately ‘‘made that choice to go’’.
Project Jonah volunteers stayed at the beach for a few hours to monitor the whale and make sure it did not come back to shore.
DOC ranger Trish Grant said the orca likely got stranded looking for stingray to eat close to the shore.
She was not concerned about another pod of orca seen at Port Underwood on Sunday night.
Anna McIntosh was one of the first people on the scene, arriving about 1pm on Sunday.
A neighbour put the call out. There were 50 or 60 people there by about 4pm, she said.
But the orca was not looking well on Monday morning, she said.
The orca had gone ‘‘quiet’’, and the number of volunteers had dwindled off after the army arrived and dug the trench.
McIntosh said she had never seen an orca stranded in her eight years living about a kilometre from Marfells Beach, nor had neighbours who had lived there ‘‘for generations’’.
‘‘We’ve seen seals and things like that ... It’s a juvenile, it’s not a fully-grown one so it’s questionable why it’s even happened.’’
Volunteer Annabelle Latz helped on Sunday afternoon then returned at 10pm. The tide was coming in when she left just before midnight.
People put sandbags beside the killer whale to keep it stable and the efforts were ‘‘super organised’’, she said.
A team of four people got buckets, four people put water on him and four people rested to take over if people got tired.
‘‘Because everyone was doing what they were told it was a really nice atmosphere and really positive,’’ Latz said.
The orca was happy and relaxed when she was there, she said.
Department of Conservation ranger Chris Wootton said on Sunday the main thing was to keep the young killer whale upright, wet and calm until it could be safely re-floated.
Volunteer Anna McIntosh said she had never seen an orca strand in her eight years living near Marfells Beach.