Mass whale stranding at New Zealand beach, more than 100 dead
More than 100 pilot whales have died after being stranded on a New Zealand beach, conservation officials said on Saturday (Feb 14).
And fears remain that more than 90 others from the pod may die as well.
The whales beached themselves on Friday (Feb 13) at Farewell Spit at the northern tip of the South Island.
Dozens of rescuers rushed to the scene to help re-float the marine mammals on the evening high tide that very day and shepherded them out to deep water.
But the whales swam aground again overnight, said department of conservation spokesman Andrew Lamason.
"We’ve now got 103 that are confirmed dead and we’re trying to keep the rest alive," he told AFP.
"There’s about 150 volunteers trying to make them as comfortable as possible, they’re putting sheets on them and water over them.
"But we’re preparing ourselves for a pretty bad outcome, each time they re-strand their health goes down quite dramatically."
Mr Lamason said the incident is distressing for all involved.
"There’s a lot of young ones out there that have already passed away. It’s been quite an emotional time for our staff," he said.
"The whales also go through a lot of physical and emotional trauma."
He said another attempt at re-floating will be made at high tide late Saturday.
If that fails, euthanasia will be discussed, he added.
Disorientated and dying
This is not the first time whales have become stranded on Farewell Spit beach, about 150km west of the tourist town of Nelson.
There have been at least eight mass strandings there in the past decade, including two within the space of a week in January last year.
The latest stranding, however, is one of the largest.
"It seems to happen each summer," Mr Lamason said.
"It’s highly likely it’s the geography, potentially they’re coming in here hunting for fish and becoming disorientated and dying.
"It could be that some of the pods are sick and that brings them up onto the beach, we don’t really know."
Pilot whales grow up to six metres long and are the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters.