Lucky ‘Lucy’ saved by lo­cals at Mar­fells

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - EMILY HEY­WARD AND OLIVER LEWIS

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

high tide.

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.

PHOTO: RICKY WIL­SON/STUFF

Vol­un­teer Anna McIn­tosh said she had never seen an orca strand in her eight years liv­ing near Mar­fells Beach.

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