Humpback whales still stranded at Ripiro Beach, Northland

By Raniera Harrison

The stranding of two humpback whales has a Northland iwi posing questions of its own.

Chairman of Te Rūnanga o Te Roroa Sonny Nesbit says "It makes you question what you're doing wrong, or whether there's something wrong with the whenua, with Tangaroa or with things that are occurring."

Two hundred volunteers took to Ripiro Beach today to help rescue the 13-metre female humpback whale. 

Members of the local community have sat with the pair since their discovery yesterday morning.

World-renowned whale biologist, Dr Ingrid Visser says, "The smaller one died at about quarter-past-seven this morning, it was a very peaceful death.  It just stopped breathing.  It didn't have any thrashing around that's typical when cetaceans die."

A second digger was brought on-site to assist in creating a suitable channel for the larger humpback whale, believed to have stranded trying to rescue the smaller humpback whale calf late on Saturday night.

"We're not sure if they're related but this animal was behaving in such a way that it was indicative that they were related possibly - even it's a calf from a previous season," says Visser.

Two large excavators spent a majority of Monday digging a trench-like exit point for the whale to return to the sea.

High tide is expected here at Ripiro at approximately 5:30pm tonight- that's when rescuers will have a clearer picture of whether or not they can return the whale to sea.

"The problem is that the tide is smaller today than it was yesterday.  The whale, because she moved in closer to be with the other one and she's a bigger whale, then we've got problems because she may not get off," says Visser.

Kaitiaki of the mana whenua, Josephine Nathan (Te Uri o Hau, Waikaretū) says "If we all come in and all share an energy and mauri to piki the wairua, it'll give her the strength to haere tonu because she's got another journey to go from here."

Local iwi say they've been in contact with practitioners around Northland who are knowledgeable in dissecting whales to provide education about the mammals.

"We're going to be bringing everyone here close together as best as we can, bring them up here and do some learning on the spot," says Nesbit.

Local iwi and the Department of Conservation will meet again tonight to reassess the situation.

There will be a karakia held on-site at Ripiro at 9:00am on Tuesday morning.