South Island: More whales strand as hundreds die

Cheryl Sanders
February 12, 2017

The crisis began Friday when a pod of 416 whales became stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay on the northwest of the South Island.

Between 1976 and 2000, 165 pilot whale strandings were recorded in New Zealand - half of them herd strandings - with 6000 whales in total running aground, it said.

Hundreds of whales have died overnight on a New Zealand beach after a mass stranding thought to be the largest in decades. Many of those whales died.

Volunteers were tasked with keeping the whales calm and wet with buckets of water and sheets before they can be refloated at high tide.

According to Lamason, the reason behind the mass stranding of the pilot whales is not known yet. Project Jonah noted that if one or two whales become stranded, they will send out distress signals and the species' "strong social bonds" will encourage the rest of the pod to come help.

The area, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) west of the tourist town of Nelson, is notorious for whale strandings and has witnessed at least nine mass beachings in the past decade.

And Farewell Spit is located on the north end of Golden Bay, a known hotspot for pilot whale strandings. It is the third largest whale stranding on record. Saturday's rescue efforts during the morning high tide appeared more promising.

20 whales have re-stranded at the original site. Inwood said that volunteers refloated the whales at high tide, forming a chain to stop them from swimming back onshore. The call for help, posted by Project Jonah of Facebook, has seen a tremendous response from locals, with a road leading to the beach being jammed with cars of helpers, the New Zealand Herald reports.

"It's a pretty sad scene up on the beach where there's a long line of dead whales", he said.

There are renewed fears the rescued whales will beach themselves again as they attempt to stay with their stranded fellows in the bay, he added.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) local manager Andrew Lamason said rescuers were preparing themselves mentally for the "possibility that we may have a re-strand this afternoon".

Livermore says that the success of refloating depends partly on the severity of the whales' injuries and the depth of the water they are pushed into.

Due to the stranding, the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand is restricting airspace over the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve, barring any planes, drones or helicopters from flying under 2,000 feet (600 meters) there.

In 1918 1000 whales beached themselves on the Chatham Islands, and in 1985 450 stranded at Great Barrier Island off the coast of Auckland.

Other reports by iNewsToday