Monday 24 April 2017

Hundreds of volunteers form human chain in effort to save dozens of 400 beached whales

Many of the whales died overnight at Golden Bay in New Zealand

Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington

Rescuers have managed to refloat almost 100 of pilot whales that swam aground in a remote bay in New Zealand.

Many of the whales died overnight at Farewell Spit at the top of the South Island, but those that survived are now swimming in the bay off the beach.

Some 300 carcasses littered the beach after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings.

Hundreds of volunteers flocked to Golden Bay, at the north-west tip of South Island, after dawn broke on Friday and surviving whales were refloated at high tide by lunchtime, but 90 quickly became stranded once again as the tide ebbed.

About 50 more lingered in shallow waters near their beleaguered pod.

A conservation department worker spotted the whales washed ashore on Thursday evening.

But the government agency decided against a night rescue effort because of the risk of accidents.

Read more: WATCH: The moment surfers come to the aid of a stranded whale on Mayo beach

Volunteers try to assist some more stranded pilot whales that came to shore in the afternoon after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to assist some more stranded pilot whales that came to shore in the afternoon after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to assist some more stranded pilot whales that came to shore in the afternoon after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
A stranded pilot whale that came to shore in the afternoon can be seen after one of the country's largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand's South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Some of the scores of stranded pilot whales after one of New Zealand’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay. Photo: Reuters

Hoping to save more whales at the next high tide last night, rescuers took turns pouring water over the beached whales to try and keep them cool, while school children sang to soothe the distressed beasts.

A ferry service offered free transport to qualified marine medics, while broadcast media carried a livestream of the rescue attempt.

Even for a country with the most whale strandings in the world, the scale of the latest event "was a shock", said Darren Grover, manager of marine environmental organisation Project Jonah.

It was New Zealand's largest known whale stranding since 1985, when 450 were stranded in Auckland, and the third largest on record.

The precise cause of the stranding was not known, though beached whales are not an uncommon sight at Golden Bay. Its shallow muddy waters confuse the marine mammals' sonar, leaving them vulnerable to stranding by an ebb tide, according to Project Jonah.

Pilot whales are not listed as endangered, but little is known about their population in New Zealand waters.

Irish Independent

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