In the third worst incident of its kind in New Zealand, 416 pilot whales stranded themselves in Golden Bay’s Farewell Spit this week. By the time the Department of Conservation (DOC) reached the beached whales, between 250 and 300 had tragically died. A desperate plea went out for volunteers to help save the remaining animals, and hundreds turned out to do just that.
On Friday DOC workers and dozens of volunteers were already onsite, endeavoring to save the last whales. Volunteer Peter Wiles told Fairfax New Zealand, “It is one of the saddest things I have seen, that many sentient creatures just wasted on the beach.” Workers attempted to keep the animals wet and calm with towels, sheets, and buckets.
In the morning’s high tide, they were able to refloat around 100 whales, and DOC said around 50 remained in the bay but 80 to 90 beached themselves once again, as whales are social and try to stay close to their pod, and much of the pod was sadly dead on the beach. Although DOC said they cannot work with whales at night for safety reasons, they will attempt another refloat at tomorrow’s lunchtime high tide.
What caused the mass stranding? DOC team leader Andrew Lamason told The Guardian he didn’t have a clue why this particular stranding occurred, but said such events are unfortunately common in Golden Bay because it is shallow, making it hard for whales to leave after they’ve swum in. According to the department, mass strandings still aren’t fully understood; a disoriented leader, navigational error, or rescue effort to retrieve a stranded young whale are among the possible causes.
Locals showed resounding willingness to drop their lives to help. DOC reports more than 500 volunteers arrived to assist with the rescue attempt. Lamason, who described the stranding as an emotionally exhausting event, told The Guardian, “We are in the farthest corner of the universe here but now volunteers have started turning up en masse and there are hundreds of people here and they have brought food and supplies so they are prepared to be here all day and all night if needed.”
Via The Guardian