Archives For Nelson

By Mike Ogle, Ranger, Golden Bay

Last Sunday on a long and remote stretch of the Nelson coast, trampers encountered a stranded whale (or was it a dolphin) at the mouth of the Raukawa Stream. They managed to get it back into the water, but, due to a rising tide they had to leave it to fend for itself.

Stranded Risso's dolphin. Photo: Mike Ogle/DOC.

The dolphin discovered by trampers at the mouth of the Raukawa Stream.

One of the trampers phoned the DOC hotline and the message was passed to me. We get a lot of stranded whales along our coast, especially around Farewell Spit. Most are pilot whales but we also get a fair mix of other marine creatures. After contacting one of the trampers his description of the creature, “grey, about three meters, had teeth, sort of had a dolphin head, but not really” piqued my curiosity.  The report was unusual enough to act on – despite the two hour drive, three river crossings, limited vehicle access and possibility that it had just simply swum away.

Mike and a DOC colleague making a cup of tea. Photographed by Tim Mackrell/The University of Auckland..

Mike and his colleague near the site of the stranded dolphin

The weather and tide were good, so I headed west with a quad bike on the back of the ute. The ute got me through the first two river crossings fine and then I took the quad bike down the beach as far as the Anaweka River. To check if I could ride the quad across the river I started wading in, but half way across with water mid thigh and current racing I decided there was no chance. Losing a quad bike in the Tasman Sea would not be a good move, so I parked it and started walking.

The exact location of the stranding was a bit vague and it wasn’t until I ventured well up into the Raukawa estuary that I could make out a pale outline amongst rocks. Unfortunately it was clear to see that the creature had died. But this was certainly something we hadn’t seen before. The first oddity was the scratches covering nearly every square centimetre of its skin. The next obvious feature was the forehead – there was long vertical cleft running up it. There was no sign of recent trauma around the cleft, or old scar tissue. Proportionately it also had a very large dorsal fin for its size.

I started flicking through the identification book. Dwarf sperm whale looked close, but the mouth was the wrong shape. The book had suffered from a few of its own strandings with lots of the pages were stuck together so I left it at that.

I quickly took a skin sample for DNA, snapped some standard stranding photos, took a GPS waypoint and tied the mysterious creature to a tree.

At home that night at home, flicking through another identification book, I found it! All the features added up, the toothed mouth, lots of obvious scarring, the narrow tail stock, large dorsal fin and the clincher – a cleft forehead. Not a birth defect, or boat impact – they all look like this! It was a dolphin – a Risso’s dolphin. Rare this far south, this would be the first record for a stranded Risso’s dolphin in the South Island.

I soon found the story of “Pelorus Jack” the famous Risso’s dolphin, who just over 100 hundred years ago was the first dolphin in the world to gain legal protection. And he had lived just around the corner in Cook Straight.

The dolphin known as Pelorus Jack.

The famous “Pelorus Jack” dolphin

By Wednesday interest in the dolphin had grown and Otago Museum was keen to have the specimen.  The museum staff consulted with Manawhenua ki Mohua and gained their approval to take the dolphin.

The plan was to drive as close as practical to the Anaweka River, walk south from there across river to dolphin, tie a rope around it and float it two kilometres back to the vehicle over high tide. In the summer two of us had floated a two tonne sei whale a kilometre across an estuary. So how hard could it be for one person to float a little 300 kilogram dolphin?

Mike in the surf retrieving the dolphin. Photo: Tim Mackrell/The University of Auckland.

Mike retrieving the dead Risso’s dolphin

I got to the dolphin about 11 am, fortunately still tied to the tree and only just out of the water. After dragging it into the Raukawa Creek it floated well and I headed for the estuary mouth. Soon the dolphin grounded in a shallow part of the estuary. A bit of digging sand by hand got it to the next bit of deep water. After ten minutes we were on our way to the estuary mouth. The Anaweka is quite large at high tide. Looking across the river mouth I wondered what my career prospects would be if I lost a dolphin in the Tasman Sea.

Discretion is the better part of valour, so I waded about 200 metres up the estuary away from the mouth before attempting to cross. Across the channel I climbed, waded and swam, then over a rocky headland before I finally emerged at a rock shelf 100 metres from the vehicle. Here, once the tide had receded, my colleagues helped me roll the dolphin onto the ute. Our day was done, and the dolphin was on its way to Otago Museum. Now science could have its day.

A map of the Risso's dolphin retrieval.

A map of where the Risso’s dolphin was floated to

By Trish Grant, Communications and Engagement Advisor, Nelson

DOC is renowned for its island pest eradications, now we are leading a pest eradication programme that is focussed on home gardens to wipe out the great white butterfly in Nelson Tasman, which if successful, would be a world first.

The great white butterfly caterpillars.

The caterpillars

The pest butterfly was first found in a Nelson garden in 2010, and has since then been spreading in the city and into nearby Richmond in Tasman. It is a significant pest of brassica plants in numerous parts of the world and is thought to have entered New Zealand as a pupa on an item shipped into Port Nelson.

The aim of the programme is to stop the pest butterfly in its tracks and prevent it spreading to other parts of New Zealand.

With an autumn surge in great white butterfly breeding now underway, around 25 DOC staff are scouring gardens in and around Nelson city searching for the butterfly’s distinctive caterpillars and tiny yellow eggs clustered on host plants. Beating this breeding surge and knocking down the caterpillar numbers is critical to the success of the eradication programme.

The DOC team have initiated a ground-based attempt to eradicate the butterfly in November out of concern at the serious threat it poses to our native cresses; of the 79 species, 57 are at risk of extinction. We need a lot of people on the ground to find and remove all the butterflies, caterpillars and eggs we can to beat the butterfly and stop it becoming a widespread major pest.

The public support has been fantastic. The people of Nelson Tasman have been out looking for and reporting eggs and caterpillars and have been heeding the call to help kill the butterflies to stop them laying eggs.

The programme is due to continue until 2017 and if it succeeds, it will be the first ground-based eradication of the great white butterfly achieved in the world.

To celebrate the Protecting Our Place partnership with Dulux, DOC staff are sharing their ‘hut breaks’ stories. Today Stephen Wynne-Jones—Policy Advisor tells us about his tramp to Hunters Hunt in Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Stephen with Sam the nine year old border collie on the way to Hunters Hut.

Stephen with Sam the nine year old border collie on the way to Hunters Hut

In February my wife Liz and I tramped over from Inwoods Lookout to Hunters Hut in Mt Richmond Forest Park (between Nelson and Nelson Lakes). Dogs are allowed in this Park with a permit which is easily obtained from the Nelson Visitor Centre. Carrying the permit, we headed off with our “companion dog” Sam, a nine year old border collie. It was great to have Sam with us. He kept a close eye on us and was very well behaved. The only chasing/hunting we let him do was after a hare, which was, of course, much too fast for him to catch.

At the end of the trip Sam was a bit “paw” sore. His tail was still up though at the end of the walk. This indicates to me that he was a tired but happy dog.

Stephen standing on the deck at Hunters Hut in Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Stephen at Hunters Hut in Mt Richmond Forest Park

From Inwoods Lookout the track to Hunters Hut climbs steadily to the Gordons Range ridgeline.  It then runs along the ridge for a while before descending steeply to the Left Branch of the Motueka River, not far from the hut. The ridgetop section offers expansive views to the west eastwards towards the Red Hills and the Mt Ellis/Ben Nevis Ridge and southwards to the Nelson Lakes mountains and beyond.

We walked into the hut on a Friday evening after work, which meant that we finished the tramp in the dark. We found the DOC orange track markers okay to follow in the bush. Once we arrived at the Left Branch of the Motueka River though, we found they were much harder to spot in the dark. As a result we lost our way for a while and overshot the track leading up to the hut. This resulted in us having a later night than we expected.

Stephen with Sam the nine year old border collie in Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Stephen and Sam in Mt Richmond Forest Park

At the hut we met an interesting bunch of trampers who were heading southwards along the Te Araroa Way. This is the national long distance trail that runs the full length of the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff. All were from overseas – three young men from the US (who were travelling together), and two from France (travelling separately). Meeting these people was a change from our previous visit to this hut which was before the Te Araroa Way opened. Then, we had the hut to ourselves, even though it was in the middle of an Easter weekend. I was struck by the long days the long distance trampers on the Te Araroa Way were doing.

Hunters Hut is a relocated hut located on a spur above the site of the old Bush Edge Hut. The Bush Edge Hut was taken out by a flood/slip on 23 February 1995 with the loss of two DOC hunters who were sheltering there. This history is described in interpretative material at the hut. Co-incidentally we were at Hunters Hut 18 years to the day (and also a Saturday) since this sad event occurred.

Liz and Sam in Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Liz and Sam with the Red Hills landscape in the background

Hunters Hut today is a wonderful standard DOC eight bunk hut. It has views, plenty of sunshine (in summer anyway) and a great set up with decks on two sides and platform bunks at one end. This leaves plenty of space inside the hut for cooking, eating, yarning and relaxing. The nearby river has some great swimming holes.

Hunters Hut is near to the Red Hills an area of ultramafic (very dense magnesium rich) rock. This rock is very unforgiving if you fall on it. It is ******* tramping boots and dog paws. Ultramafic rock is naturally infertile so much of the area is covered in distinctive scrub and tussock. We found it also has lots of lizards, distinctive colours, and interesting rock forms.

Enjoy a hut break of your own

An overnight stay in a beautiful natural setting can be yours without having to raise too much of a sweat. Take a short walk, a boat trip or drive directly to the door to enjoy one of DOC’s down to earth stays. They’re all unique – from fairly basic to having many of the comforts of home, find one that’s right for you.