Over the last few months we have seen and experienced many significant changes, to our enviroment and to our way of living. Covid-19 has and will continue for some time yet to have a huge impact on people here in Aotearoa and across the globe. While COVID-19 posed and continues to pose a major risk to the health and wellbeing of people, it has by comparrison enabled the planet to ‘literally and figuratively breath, to replenish itself without being buffeted by the relentless exploitative habits and pursuits of humankind. Planet Earth was given some much needed time to relenish itself and the flora and fauna it is home to. Animals were free to wander the planet, free for a brief period of time, from the predatory behaviours of humankind. This return to the way it once was, gave us all the necessary ‘wake-up’ call to ask ourselves why this brief respite should not be our new norm. We all cheered when we saw sateliite images of continents and landmasses that we had given up on ever seeing again, because our cities and airways and become choked up by smog. 

During covid people enjoyed taking walks along Waikanae stream and seeing and enjoying the litterless terrain  and In the evening observing the increase in the number and types of birdlife along the stream, which seemed to have returned to roost in environs that seemed safer with less humans. Our Taiao thrived during the significant reduction in the number of people frequenting these natural habitats. While these moments were joyous they were sadly short lived. 

As the country moved to Alert Level 2, there were two seperate whale strandings within a two week period Rongowhakata Iwi Trust were approached by DOC management to provide cultural leadership on both ocassions, in how we would attempt to safe the whales and sadly, as it transpired  how we would lay these amazing mamals to rest, with dignity and respect for them and eco-system that became their final resting place.

Rongowhakaata   would personally like to thank the locals who came to  assist with the rescue of the whales and their efforts to save them. We would also like to thank the Department of Conservation, and especially Malcom Smith  and Jamie Quirk who shared their  knowledge about pygymy sperm whales and the circumstances and conditions that drive them to beach themselves .

The first stranding and fatality occureed on May 26th involving a  mother and calf . We were told the mother whale was 40 years old and she was less than half the size that she should have been, the calf was about 9 months and would still have been suckling and solely dependant on a very undernourished mother.

The  second stranding involved another female pygymy sperm whale who was at the time in calf. The DoC officers said that it was very unusual for these whales to be beached in this particular area.

Soraya Pohatu and Samuel Lewis, the two RIT staff involved were both deeply impacted by these two incidents, being part of the two rescue operations and then overseeing the burial process of these majestic mammal. 

These two incidents highlighted our lack of understanding  and knowledge of what  is truely happening in our Moana and on our planet. It reminds us that notwithstanding our best efforts it all seems too little, too late, we are still not doing enough.We thank those who took part in Karakia to honour and farewell ‘ nga tamariki o Tangaroa’, who came ashore, for whatever reason, to live out their final moments. 

There is a  tohu (sign)  for us in these two whale strandings, a reminder to us all of the fraility of life and how little we truly know of what is happening to and in our world , that forces some of life’s most glorious creatures to take such extreme and fatal actions  or is this just another natural phenomenon in the ‘Circle of Life’.