More than 400 whales were stranded on a New Zealand beach Friday, with most of them dying quickly as frustrated volunteers desperately raced to save the survivors.
It was one of the largest mass beachings recorded in New Zealand, where strandings are relatively common, the Department of Conservation said.
Andrew Lamason, the department’s regional manager, said 416 pilot whales swam ashore at Farewell Spit in the Golden Bay region, on the northern tip of South Island.
About 70 percent had perished by the time wildlife officers reached the remote location and about 500 volunteers pitched in to get the remaining whales offshore.
However, he conceded the outlook was gloomy and by late afternoon the majority of the 100-plus whales that were re-floated at high tide had swam back ashore.
“With that number dead, you have to assume that the rest are in reasonably poor nick as well,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“So we’re sort of preparing ourselves for a pretty traumatic period ahead.”
Department spokesman Herb Christophers said there were so many whale carcasses that it was difficult for the volunteers to get living animals into the water.
“The dead ones that are floating around out there are obstructing their course out to sea,” he said.
“I understand they’re concerned about people’s welfare… there’s quite a safety issue there.”
The volunteers at the beach were also advised to be wary of the thrashing tails and fins of the distressed whales, which can weigh up to two tonnes.
Pilot whales grow up to six metres (20 feet) long and are the most common species of whale in New Zealand waters.
They are renowned for tragically swimming back ashore after being refloated in an apparent attempt to rejoin their pod.