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Whale tragedy at Wainui

50th anniversary of gruesome stranding.

There were ghastly sights and smells this day 50 years ago when 59 sperm whales beached themselves at the northern end of Wainui Beach.

The whales, measuring between 15 and 35 feet (4.6 to 10.7 metres), could not be saved and over the next few days were buried in a mass grave at an area now simply known as Whales.

Former Gisborne mayor Meng Foon, a primary school student at the time, said the whales seemed like monsters.

“It is a memorable event of my childhood.”

Ministry of Works staff wore masks and sprayed the whales with a mixture of water and deodorant in an attempt to reduce “the stench that is quickly pervading the area”.

Some whales “split open and spewed innards on to the sand”.

However, the public was not put off by the smell or by the sight of the whales, some of which were still alive. So many cars and buses appeared at the beach that traffic officers were sent to the area.

Members of the public were able to walk right up to the whales and there were eye-witness accounts of some people cutting pieces off the mammals.

The lead article in The Herald's Weekender this Saturday will report on the event in more detail.

One witness told The Gisborne Herald he saw blood squirting 25 metres up into the air as a whale was pushed along the beach by the blades of a bulldozer, which cut it like ring-barking a tree.

“I never went back.”

Gisborne Herald file pictures

  1. Emily Hongara, Darwin, Australia says:

    Just the way nature is . . . the whales hit up against the seabed off a hill, slept and got stuck. I don’t care.