Volunteers rescue 40 stranded whales in New Zealand

Some 200 people, mostly volunteers, helped form a barrier to carry the whales out to sea

| 02/22/2021 | ionicons-v5-c11: 15 | . |

NEW ZEALAND.- Volunteers in New Zealand managed to re-float Monday night to 40 beached whalesalthough they feared that they might be trapped again at night.

A group of 49 pilot whales or pilot whales was stranded in Farewell Spit, a remote beach on the South Island, the Department of Conservation said. Nine of the animals died.

Volunteers helped keep the whales cool and comfortable during the day: They doused them with buckets of water, held them upright and made sure they didn’t put too much pressure on their fins, explained Louisa Hawkes, a spokeswoman for the group of whale rescue Project Jonah.

The afternoon high tide allowed them to float, he said. The pilot whales were scattered along the beach and one of his first tasks was to gather them again. About 200 people, mostly volunteers, helped form a barrier to carry the whales out to sea. Once in deeper water, several boats took over, moving in line from one side to the other to prevent the animals from returning to shore.

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However, the spokeswoman noted that despite her efforts, the whales had not entered the ocean and it was feared that they could be stranded again.

« It’s always great to see the whales in deeper water, where they belong, » Hawkes said. « Everyone is very hopeful, but he’s also very realistic. »

The pilot whales were first spotted by a tour guide Monday morning, the Department of Conservation said.

Conservation guards helped coordinate the operation with volunteers from Project Jonah. Neighbors in the area also came to help.

Farewell Spit, a spit of sand that curves into the Tasman Sea, has seen other massive strandings in the past. Cetaceans seem to have trouble getting away from the beach once they approach a long shoreline, sometimes described as a whale trap.

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There are different theories about why whales strand, from getting too close to shore in pursuit of prey to trying to protect a sick member of the group or escape from a predator.

Four years ago, more than 650 pilot whales they stranded in Farewell Spit in two massive strandings. More than 350 of the creatures died, and about 300 were saved.

Pilot whales are relatively small, but can exceed 6 meters (20 feet).