New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit

Media captionRescuers help whales return to sea, as more become stranded down the coast

The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived.

Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday.

But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall.

The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help.

More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water.

It is hoped that those of the new arrivals that survive can be moved back out to sea during the next high tide in daylight on Sunday.

Media captionOne volunteer said “people from all over the world” were helping to try to save the whales

It is not clear why the whales continue to arrive on the 5km-long (three mile-long) beach next to Golden Bay.

One theory is that they may have been driven on to land by sharks, after bite marks were found on one of the dead whales.

Herb Christophers of New Zealand’s department of conservation told the BBC that the whales were trying to get round the top of South Island, but if their navigation went wrong they ended up on the beach.

In the shallower waters, the animals’ use of echolocation was impaired.

“It’s a very difficult place if you get lost in there and you are a whale,” he said.

Experts say that whales that become beached will send out distress signals attracting other members of their pod, who then also get stranded by a receding tide.

Sometimes the whales are simply old, sick, or injured.

Are whales attempting suicide when they strand themselves?

Andrew Lamason, from New Zealand’s department of conservation, said those refloated had been tagged, whereas the latest arrivals were not, indicating that they were a new group.

He said 20 whales had been humanely killed by conservation workers as they were in a poor condition.

Officials have also been looking into how best to dispose of the whale carcasses.

Mr Lamason said that simply towing them out to sea could be problematic as they may become gaseous and buoyant and float into populated bays.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Volunteers have been trying to keep the stranded whales upright

The latest incident in New Zealand was first reported on Thursday evening, but conditions were too dangerous at the time to launch a rescue operation.

New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, with about 300 dolphins and whales ending up on beaches every year, according to Project Jonah.

Many of these incidents happen at Farewell Spit.

In February 2015 about 200 whales beached themselves at the same location, of which at least half died.

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