SYDNEY – About 50 long-finned pilot whales have stranded on the northwest tip of South Island of New Zealand, out of which at least nine have died despite attempts to save them, the country’s conservation agency said on Monday.
“We are currently responding to 49 long-finned pilot whales that have stranded at the base of Farewell Spit,” the Department of Conservation said on its Facebook page.
In a 4:00 pm update, the DoC said nine had died and 40 were still alive.
The agency said that it was waiting for the tide to rise at about 6 pm to refloat the mammals once the water was deep enough.
“Project Jonah marine mammal medics will assist with re-floating the whales and caring for them on the beach, keeping them cool and wet until they can be refloated,” the ministry added.
Project Jonah, a non-profit that specializes in the protection and conservation of marine mammals, said other beaches would be checked for strandings that may have occurred further along the coast.
Some 65 volunteers were working to keep the whales cool and sheltered from the sun using buckets of water and wet blankets until they can be refloated at Farewell Spit, the 34-kilometer-long (21 mile) stretch of sand – the longest natural sand spit in the world.
Up to 700 whales were stranded on Farewell Spit in 2017, out of which 250 died while the rest were refloated.
The largest recorded stranding in the world occurred in 1918 when about 1,000 pilot whales were trapped off the Chatham Islands in southeastern New Zealand.
Long-finned pilot whales are a protected species belonging to the dolphin family.
Scientists have not been able to determine the reasons why whales become stranded in shallow waters en masse after deviating from their routes. However, noise pollution and navigation errors are possibilities.