Over 600 whales have been stranded on a New Zealand coastline over the past two days, with half of them dying despite rescue efforts to refloat them at sea.
The crisis began Friday when a pod of 416 pilot whales became stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay and the situation deteriorated when another pod of 200 whales joined them at shore late Saturday.
From the outset, rescuers waded into neck-deep water to keep them at sea, even defying a shark threat. However, Department of Conservation (DOC) officials decided on Friday night to leave the whales overnight as efforts to refloat them during darkness turned too risky.
Over 300 whales died before the rescuers and volunteers converged at the coastline on Saturday. The rescuers formed a human wall to guide the survivors out to the sea and prevent the other whales from coming to shore.
Hundreds of volunteers mobilized to help the rescue operation, with many trying to keep the whales cool while they waited to refloat them on the high tide.
“We may salvage some of the stranded whales. Not all stranded whales can successfully be refloated,” DOC spokesman Herb Christophers said, noting that even “when some whales are saved, they may still re-strand as has happened in this instance,” which prolongs the effort and reduces the chances of success.
Daren Grover, the general manager of environmental group Project Jonah which is assisting with the rescue, said it is still unclear why the whales beached themselves.
“We don’t know why the super pod came in. They may have been picking up some calls from the whales here and come in to respond. It’s very unusual, not something we have seen before,” Gorver said.
Over the past decade, Farewell Spit has witnessed at least nine mass beaching.
By Africafrique and agencies