Former All Blacks rugby player Ali Williams and Zuru Inc founder Nick Mowbray helped rescue a stranded false killer whale from a New Zealand beach on Monday. Williams and Mowbray were returning by helicopter from the Bay of Islands when they spotted the stranded whale at Mangawhai Heads, north of Auckland, according to the New Zealand Herald.

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“We noticed what we thought was a shark or dolphin stranded at a beach north of Auckland… as we got closer we saw it was actually a whale,” Jaimee Lupton, Mowbray’s partner, told Reuters.

The 39-year-old Williams, who helped the All Blacks win the 2011 World Cup in a 77-cap, eight-year Test level career that began in 2003 and ended with the trophy win, and Mowbray jumped into the water to save the whale and were later joined by eight or nine lifeguards.

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“We freed the whale successfully after about an hour. It was almost dark so we had to move fast and spring into action otherwise he may not have survived,” Lupton said.

Videos posted by Lupton on Instagram show people pushing and pulling the whale as the surf rolls in until it is finally able to swim free. “It was really emotional and we were all cheering once he swam out to sea,” Lupton said.

Whale rescue charity Project Jonah said on its Facebook page, however, that the techniques used were dangerous to the whale and its rescuers. “The video shows members of the public using a rope around the tail and dragging the whale backwards… to get it to deeper water. 

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“This is incredibly dangerous not only for rescuers but can cause significant damage to the whale,” it said. “While we understand the desire to get the whale back into deeper water it is important that this is done correctly and safely,” the charity said.

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