Feb. 10 (UPI) — As many as 300 beached whales died in New Zealand while a small army of volunteers and conservation workers tried to save another 100 that were still alive.
The mass beaching happened at Farewell Spit, a narrow sand spit at the northern end of Golden Bay, on New Zealand’s south island. Tidal changes in the waterway can change water depth drastically, leaving fish and marine mammals stranded, which is what appears to have happened to a pod of 416 pilot whales that were beached Thursday night.
Rescue workers and volunteers said 250 to 300 of the whales died after being stranded on the sand for half a day. Another 100 were refloated when the high tide returned Friday afternoon and of them, 80 to 90 whales were able to swim to deeper water and survived.
The remaining whales were being cared for by more than 500 volunteers coordinated by the marine mammal conservation group Project Jonah. Volunteers kept the whales comfortable on the beach awaiting another high tide Saturday morning, when officials said they hoped the remaining 40 or 50 whales would be able to swim back out to sea.
The New Zealand Department of Conservation said Thursday’s incident was the third-largest whale stranding in the nation’s history, according to data that reaches back to the 19th century. Researchers at Massey University were being brought in to perform necropsies on some of the whales to try to determine what might have led them off course.