Around 240 whales has beached itself on a remote New Zealand beach just hours after weary volunteers managed to re-float a different group of whales following an earlier mass stranding. More than 650 pilot whales in total have beached themselves along a five-kilometer stretch of coastline over two days on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island.
About 335 of the whales are dead, 220 remain stranded, and 100 are back at sea. They are sure they are dealing with a new pod because they had tagged all the re-floated whales from the first group and none of the new group had tags said Department of Conservation Golden Bay Operations Manager Andrew Lamason.
The news was disastrous for hundreds of volunteers who come from around the country to help with the initial group of 416 stranded whales that was found early Friday, many of them already dead. Volunteers are planning to return Sunday to help re-float as many healthy whales as they can.
Lamason said about 20 of the new group were euthanased by conservation workers because they were in destitute condition and more would likely need to be killed Sunday. Rescuers had been hopeful earlier Saturday after efforts to re-float the initial group of whales had gone well, following a frustrating day on Friday.
Lamason said improved weather and crystal clear water had helped with the rescue attempt.
He said about 100 surviving whales from the initial group were re-floated, and dozens of volunteers had formed a human chain in the water to prevent them from beaching again.
Volunteers were warned about the possibility of stingrays and sharks, he said, after one of the dead whales appeared to have bite marks consistent with a shark – though there had been no shark sightings.
Macabre clean up
Officials will soon grim the task of disposing of hundreds of carcasses. Lamason suggested one option to dispose the carcasses. It was to tether the carcasses to stakes or a boat in the shallow tidal waters and let them decompose.
The problem with towing them out to sea or leaving them was that they could become gaseous and buoyant, and end up causing problems by floating into populated bays.
Farewell Spit, a sliver of sand that arches like a hook into the Tasman Sea, has been the site of previous mass strandings. Sometimes described as a whale trap, the spit’s long coastline and gently sloping beaches seem to make it difficult for whales to navigate away from once they get close.