Officials say 74 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach; 25 already dead

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

74 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A pod of 74 pilot whales stranded themselves on a remote northern New Zealand beach — the second time in a month that a mass beaching has happened in the region, officials said Wednesday.

Twenty-five of the animals were already dead when officials arrived at Spirits Bay beach, Department of Conservation area manager Jonathan Maxwell said. In addition to the 49 still alive and stuck on the beach, another 50 were spotted just offshore, he said.

“We need as many volunteers as possible, as it will be at least until tomorrow (Thursday) before we can look at refloating them, which means caring for them over the next two days,” he said.

Volunteers from Far North Whale Rescue, conservation officials and the local Maori community were preparing to stay at the beach overnight to help keep the whales alive, Maxwell said. They would have to battle a strong swell and high winds in an effort to refloat the animals Thursday.

In mid-August at nearby Karikari Beach, a pod of 58 pilot whales stranded. Despite hundreds of helpers fighting to save them, just nine were eventually floated off the beach and returned to the sea.

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 migrations to and from Antarctic waters, one of which begins around September.

Since 1840, the Department of Conservation has recorded more than 5,000 strandings of whales and dolphins around the New Zealand coast. Scientists have not been able to determine why whales become stranded.

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