On Monday 27 October, Stewart received a call from Ros Cole from the Department of Conservation, saying there was a whale ashore at Rarotoka Island. Stewart then informed me that a helicopter was going to pick up Sandra Cook and her party, who had located the washed-up whale. Stewart asked me if I would like to go and check it out – It was an easy question to answer.

We thought that we were going out to assist Sandra and her party to try and re-float the whale but on arrival we landed beside the whale and the helicopter flew up to get the others who were already there. To our surprise, the helicopter took-off for Colac Bay, leaving just Stewart and myself to move the whale.

We tried to re-float the whale but when the water came up in a surge and washed around it the whale almost rolled on top of us. When Sam the helicopter pilot came back he told us the others had planes booked that they had to catch, “so we were it.”

After a discussion among ourselves, we sent a message back to Colac Bay for a helicopter load of helpers. There weren’t any problems getting a chopper load of local volunteers. After our helpers arrived, we lined up on the top side of the whale, and when the surge came in we managed to roll the whale a bit further down the beach. Each time a surge came in people were knocked about and at times they were almost squashed by the whale. However, we were on a roll and managed to get the whale into deeper water and eventually it began swimming.

There were some pretty anxious moments when the whale started swimming in circles (close to the shore) – we thought it was going to beach itself again. We were afraid we may have damaged its fins on the side while rolling but after a while it straightened up and swam to the east end of the island – by this time it was swimming strongly and continued to swim until it was out of sight.

l completed a course in Dunedin with Project Jonah, an organisation that specialises in whale stranding. One of the things you learn is not to roll a whale or a dolphin, as you could harm or break the fins. In this case we had no other option, we had shovels to dig around it but the sea just filled it back up during each surge.

Although we didn’t go by the book, it worked and it was very special moment when the whale swam away – especially for the whale.

l have been in touch with Daren from the Project and like all of us he is over the moon with our rescue.

The whale was a minke whale, which is only a small whale – but one l think that is very tasty on Japanese tables and that thought was running through my mind if we had had to euthanise it. Lucky that didn’t have to happen.

The whale was about six metres long and weighed about two and a half tonnes. The rūnaka spent a whole week of cleaning and studying orca whale bones, so it was a great way to finish with a rescue. Nā Ron Bull.

The minke whale.

The minke whale.