New Zealand rescuers refloat 11 pilot whales that survived beach stranding in which 47 died

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NZ rescuers refloat 11 whales stranded on beach

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Rescuers refloated 11 beached pilot whales Saturday after a mass stranding on an isolated northern New Zealand beach in which 47 of the mammals died. Some of the survivors still appeared to be in trouble.

All 11 survivors initially headed out to sea and were being monitored to ensure they did not return to the beach, said Carolyn Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation.

But within an hour, Smith said four of the survivors were in trouble.

“Of the eleven whales that were released, seven appear to be in good health, while four are experiencing difficulties,” she said. “The department is concerned because they haven’t left the immediate area and we are closely monitoring the situation.”

The 58 pilot whales that beached Thursday night on remote, storm-tossed Karikari Beach were stranded for up to 12 hours before they were discovered — the reason so many died, Smith said.

On Friday, conservation department workers and trained volunteers from the Far North Whale Rescue group struggled to refloat the survivors by crane and body sling, hindered by heavy seas and wind, and then transport them half a mile (a kilometer) to Matai Bay, a sheltered location with calmer waters.

Officials had earlier said 73 whales beached but revised the number Saturday after a new count of the carcasses.

A pod of 101 pilot whales stranded on the same beach in 2007.

New Zealand has one of the world’s highest rates of whale strandings, mainly during their migration to and from Antarctic waters. Since 1840, the Department of Conservation has recorded more than 5,000 strandings of whales and dolphins around the New Zealand coast.

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