By Jack Williams
This is the incredible moment a large group of helpless whales suddenly became stranded in the shallows of a remote island – only for local residents to rush into the waters to usher them back out to sea.
In an amazing display of human spirit, residents of Stewart Island, New Zealand, darted into the waters to frantically push and splash the group of between 20 and 30 mammals back out into that open waters.
Adding to the emotion of the occasion, Stewart Island residents witnessed a similar situation last November, only with a different outcome, as 145 pilot whales died due to a mass stranding at the island’s Mason Bay.
This time, however, residents were ready for the incident late last month, which was captured on video and film by Jess Kany, the editor of the Stewart Island News, and Laire Purik, of Lairka Photography.
In the intense footage, the whales can be seen getting closer and closer to Lonnekers Beach having originally been swimming among the boats of Halfmoon Bay.
The whales came slowly into the shallows and some then became stuck as they tried to turn, even flipping upside down.
Jess said: “There are lots of unhappy stories of whale strandings.
“Either the whales strand on a far-flung beach and by the time they’re discovered it’s too late to try to help them, or the whales just repeatedly turn around and re-strand no matter how many times people intervene and re-float them.
“So it’s nice to know about a positive outcome.
“Maybe that group will re-strand again.But maybe they won’t, and the young ones we saw will grow up and live their lives.
“This is all because they happened to beach right in front of people who just said, ‘Nope, not on our watch,’ and jumped in.”
Local residents who helped with the rescue included James Sherriff, Rakiura Herzhoff, Shane McCarthy, Ian Miller, Craig Hind and Britt Moore.
One resident said he had been based on the island for 30 years and had never seen whales come into Halfmoon Bay.
Many of the whale strandings on the island tend to happen on isolated beaches, and so many residents were holding their breath that something similar did not happen in the following days, Jess said.
With large amounts of Jess and Laire’s footage only just being released, the pair hope the footage will highlight the goodwill of people and just how life-changing such actions can be.
Jess said: “It’s a big little story and what’s amazing is that from start to finish, the whole event – whales stranding and locals jumping in and helping – it all took about 15 minutes.
“Not a long time but literally life-changing for the whales.
“And I think maybe for some of the people too.”