About 200 beached whales refloat themselves in N. Zealand

Volunteers are using two boats to guide the 17 pilot whales that were stranded at Golden Bay on Sunday morning to the rest of the their pod and try to coax them out to deeper waters, the New Zealand Herald reported.

New Zealand conservation authorities said 240 pilot whales that were stranded overnight at a remote bay which only days earlier had a larger beaching refloated themselves on Sunday and were swimming offshore.

Hundreds of volunteers from farmers to tourists have spent days at the beach dousing the whales with buckets of water to keep them cool and trying to refloat them.

The group were from a different pod to the 416 whales that were stranded on Thursday night.

Department of Conservation Golden Bay Operations Manager Andrew Lamason said they are sure they're dealing with a new pod because they had tagged all the refloated whales from the first group and none of the new group had tags.

They were milling around in the shallow water so experts will be watching closely to check that they don't strand themselves again.

Yesterday, volunteers - who had arrived from all over New Zealand - were heading back to the beach at Farewell Spit, in the northern tip of South Island, to help the new batch.

Lamason said improved weather and crystal clear water helped with the latest rescue attempt. The volunteers were warned that one of the whales had been found with marks that looked like a shark bite. He said there had been no shark sightings. Officials will soon have to start clearing the carcasses, Christophers said.

Farewell Spit, on the northern tip of the South Island, has been described as a whale trap, as its long coastline can be hard for whales to navigate away from. "And essentially we went out and saw one of the biggest strandings I've ever seen".

About 1000 whales beached themselves on the Chatham Islands in 1918 and 450 in Auckland in 1985.

"But in spite of best efforts by everyone to prevent further losses, the large pod of approximately 200 pilot whales that were free-swimming, have stranded", DOC spokesman Herb Christophers said.

The new group has taken the total number of whales beached on the shore to over 650, making it one of the worst incidents of its kind in New Zealand's history.

  • Carolyn Briggs