Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Great White Shark forces dolphins to beach themselves

A marauding great white shark is the prime suspect for a pod of dolphins beaching at Pukehina on Saturday morning - spurring a mass rescue by holidaymakers.

Nine dolphins, some of them showing fresh wounds, astounded residents with their headlong plunge to shore.

Angie Martin said she had never heard of dolphins beaching themselves in her 25 years at Pukehina. "I've seen a lot of things but not that. It was the strangest thing."

Joel Larsen spotted the dolphins about 800m out from shore at 9am.

"They were really hoofing it, nothing was stopping them."

To his amazement, instead of swerving away, the dolphins plunged through the surf and beached themselves en-mass at the northern end of the beach, in front of 561 Pukehina Parade.

The dolphins' agonised thrashing triggered an instant response from holidaymakers and residents who rushed to their aid.

Within 15 minutes, most had been hauled back off the beach, turned around and were swimming back out to sea.

But it wasn't all plain sailing. Mr Larsen said one of the three that he pulled back into the surf had a big chunk bitten out of its tail.

And because it was rare for dolphins to strand themselves like this, he believes they were being chased, probably by the great white shark or mako that had been seen cruising Pukehina's reef.
Two of the three dolphins he helped shepherd out through the surf spun around and beached themselves again.

Rescuers said the dolphins were mostly smaller younger animals and more vulnerable to attack.
Trudy Wepa said three of the dolphins she saw had bite marks and were bleeding.

"We were all looking out for a shark."

She said they had to turn around a few of the dolphins three times before they finally headed in the right direction.

Ms Wepa said it was so special to feel the dolphins settle down when they were touched and rubbed, as if they knew the people were there to help.

Another rescuer on the scene early, 18-year-old Peter Sidwell from Sydney, said the response was fantastic. When he spotted the dolphins beach themselves, he pulled on a pair of boardies and sprinted. "I ran as fast as I could, I would have broken some records."

He said the dolphins looked a sorry sight when he reached them, thrashing about and "going spastic" through their blow holes.

Within a few minutes, about 30 people were in the water helping with the rescue and up to 100 had gathered on the beach to watch.

Pukehina Surf Life Saving Club patrol captain Kevin Barugh was at home when he spotted the pod about 1km off shore. "It looked like something was chasing them."

He hauled three off the beach by their tails and then turned them around by pushing their noses.
Most swam off first time.

"Once they were out the back (of the surf) they were away."


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