There are no words to truly describe the experience of coming face to face with a whale that has been stranded... let alone hundreds of them. Large, beautiful, stunningly intelligent creatures out of their element and in desperate need of assistance. It is not well-known that New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world when it comes to cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Not surprisingly with over half of the world's whales and dolphins visiting our shores and our crazy collection of coastlines (have you seen Marlborough on a map!?) there are a large number of strandings each year; with hot spots regularly seeing mass strandings almost on an annual basis.
Although no one really knows why strandings occur, with such large number of events annually, a group has emerged to (literally!) come to the rescue - Project Jonah.
Project Jonah actually began back in the mid-1970's as a movement campaigning against whaling. Since then they have grown with a vision to protect all marine mammals in every possible way. To create a world where marine animals are respected and protected globally. With this shared vision of creating a better world for all, Paper Rain has recently released a new Whale Tail Hemp Tote Bag by our very own Indigo Greenlaw in support of Project Jonah - with a donation from each purchase going straight back to the charity.
Project Jonah has also been a part of our CAUSE range for a wee while - with our Faunesque Humpback Whale T-Shirt - again with a donation from each tee purchased supporting Project Jonah.
A huge part of what Project Jonah does involves the average Kiwi - you or me! From education to beach cleanups, they even train you how to save a whale - literally! Project Jonah has, for many years, trained Kiwis and assisted the Department of Conservation in marine mammal rescues.
Thanks to Project Jonah and their countless volunteers, working in conjunction with DOC and other similar groups, New Zealand now has one of the highest rates of success in rescuing these magnificent creatures of the deep.
So whether it be a small change in your daily habits (say no to single-use plastics!) or how you shop (check out the latest Ethical Fashion Guide for Aotearoa) or learning how to Save a Whale - remember there is ALWAYS something we can do to keep this world as beautiful as it has always been.
We leave you with a first-hand encounter of a whale stranding and working with Project Jonah from our own Ailie:
"My first experience with a stranding was jumping off a bus in the middle of a beach with only 10 other people and being faced by over a hundred long-finned pilot whales spread across several kilometres of coastline. The feeling was overwhelming - it was a mixture of shock, awe, horror and hope all mixed into a mash of emotions. Sleeves (over our wetsuits!) were rolled up though and we were on our mission: to save the whales! Over the course of the day, many more volunteers turned up: backpackers, families, locals, travellers from near and far. Each played their part keeping the animal's bodies cool and wet until the tide came back in.
6 hours later and the tide finally rose to a height we could coax the whales back into deeper water. There is nothing quite like the exhausted satisfaction, relief and your heart feeling so full of joy that it feels like it's about to burst. The photograph below is that final push - everyone present joins hands together and creates a massive human chain preventing the whales from heading in the wrong direction. The camaraderie, the encouragement and support from strangers all around you is an experience I will remember forever.
Of course, physically rescuing whales may not be everyone's cup of tea... there are plenty of things you can do to help Project Jonah and help the whales, dolphins and all other marine creatures out there! I recall a lady turning up at a stranding in a house-truck, opening her door and offering all of us exhausted rescuers a huge pot of curry she had made. This was how she chose to help... and it was the BEST MEAL I had ever had!
Remember, whether you join the Project Jonah ranks and become a Marine Mammal Medic, or simply choose to replace single use items and plastics with re-usable options, there are so many ways in which we can help our stunning coastline, ocean and the creatures that have inhabited those waters long before we came along."