Mon 22 February 2021:
Rescuers were racing on Monday to save dozens of pilot whales that beached on a stretch of New Zealand coast notorious for mass strandings, wildlife officials said.
Volunteers successfully refloated 40 stranded whales on Monday evening but remained concerned they might beach themselves again overnight.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) said the pod of 49 long-finned pilot whales was found early on Monday at Farewell Spit, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of the South Island tourist town of Nelson.
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“Marine mammal medics will assist with refloating the whales and caring for them on the beach, keeping them cool and wet until they can be refloated,” a DOC spokeswoman said.
Louisa Hawkes, a spokesperson for whale rescue group Project Jonah, said volunteers helped keep the whales cool and comfortable throughout the day by drenching them with buckets of water, keeping them upright and making sure they didn’t put too much pressure on their fins.
Farewell Spit is a 26-kilometre hook of sand that protrudes into the sea at Golden Bay.
Four years ago, more than 650 pilot whales beached themselves on Farewell Spit in two separate mass strandings. More than 350 died while about 300 were saved.
Pilot whales are relatively small but can grow to over 6 meters (20 feet).
It has been the scene of at least 10 pilot whale strandings in the past 15 years, the most recent in February 2017, when almost 700 of the marine mammals beached, resulting in 250 deaths.