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07 December 2023

6 whales refloated after stranding on New Zealand beach

Photo: AP


Conservation workers and volunteers in New Zealand managed to refloat six surviving stranded whales on Tuesday and were hoping the animals would soon swim away into deeper water.

Ten pygmy killer whales were initially found stranded Sunday at Ninety Mile Beach on the North Island.

Two whales later died there.

On Monday evening, crews transported the remaining animals on hay-lined trailers to Rarawa Beach on the opposite coast of the peninsula, where the sea conditions were calmer.

The trip took about an hour, said Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Werner.

Werner said the whales were then placed in a tidal stream to relieve the pressure on their bodies.

But he said the whales became too buoyant and were moved onto the sand, where volunteers kept a vigil through the night, regularly cooling the animals with water.

Werner said about 200 people showed up to help, and groups of a dozen per whale lifted the animals into the sea Tuesday morning and refloated them on the high tide. He said that two of the weaker whales beached themselves again.

"They were calling to the other whales in the pod, and they were coming back in," he said.

"So we made a quick decision to euthanize them. It's actually phenomenal to see how in tune they are with each other."

He said the remaining whales were swimming about 400 meters (437 yards) from the shoreline on Tuesday afternoon and would continue to be monitored until they swam into deeper water, their natural habitat.

The crews were hoping for a better outcome than from an unrelated stranding over the weekend in which all 145 pilot whales died.

Travel blogger Liz Carlson wrote that she was on a five-day hike on a remote part of Stewart Island when she and a friend found the pilot whales Saturday evening. She said they rushed into the water.

"Desperately we grabbed their tails and pushed and yelled, before we got hammered by them thrashing around," she wrote on Instagram.

"It was useless - they were so big and heavy and the realization we could do nothing to save them was the worst feeling I've ever experienced."

She said her friend ran 15 kilometers (9 miles) to a hut to tell rangers and she stayed with the whales, dragging the smallest baby back into the water every few minutes before it would beach itself again.

"I knew they would inevitable die," she wrote.

"I sank to my knees in the sand screaming in frustration and crying, with the sound of dozens of dying whales behind me, utterly alone."

When conservation workers arrived, they found that 75 of the animals were already dead and they decided to euthanize the others due to their poor condition and remote location.

Whale strandings are relatively common in New Zealand during the Southern Hemisphere spring and summer.

Scientists believe strandings can be caused by a number of factors, such as the whales trying to escape predators, falling ill, or navigating incorrectly.