Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Dozens of whales stranded, many dying off NZ’s South Island

Volunteer rescuers are ushering the long-finned pilot whales back out to sea but the worry is that they may beach themselves again.

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More than a dozen pilot whales have died and many others remain stranded near a narrow sand spit at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island despite efforts to move them out to sea, authorities said on Tuesday.

After a mass stranding at Farewell Spit on Monday, the whales were walked out at high tide that night, only to be found at the remote beach again on Tuesday morning, Reuters is reporting.

“Some of the stranded whales have started swimming away but others are milling around not far from shore,” a spokeswoman for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) said in a statement.

“At this stage, it’s unclear whether the whales that are offshore from the Spit might re-strand in the outgoing tide or swim off. We should know in the next hour or so,” she said.

Rescue workers were in the water trying to encourage the whales to swim back out to sea.

Sky News is reporting that volunteers have successfully refloated 40 of the stranded whales, but rescuers are concerned the animals might beach themselves again overnight.

Louisa Hawkes, a spokesman for whale rescue group Project Jonah, said volunteers helped keep the whales cool and comfortable throughout the day by drenching them with buckets of water, keeping them upright and making sure they did not put too much pressure on their fins until the evening high tide allowed them to refloat the whales.

Last year, nearly 100 pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins died in a mass stranding on the remote Chatham Islands, about 800km off New Zealand’s east coast.

Mass strandings are common in New Zealand and have occurred throughout recorded modern history. Why it happens is a question that has puzzled marine biologists for years.

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