SYDNEY – Dozens of pilot whales were refloated by rescuers at Farewell Spit in the far northwest of the South Island of New Zealand for the second consecutive day on Tuesday, the country’s conservation agency told EFE.
Forty-nine pilot whales were found on the beach on Monday morning, but 11 died during the day and 38 were refloated by rescue teams with the evening tide, the Department of Conservation said.
The whales had been swimming about 80 meters offshore at about 9:00 pm local time as rescuers returned to shore. But on Tuesday morning, many were found back at the beach.
“DoC rangers and about 50 volunteers … searched the coastline for the whales from first light this morning. The whales were found about 7:00 am in the same area as where they were stranded yesterday,” the DoC told EFE on Tuesday.
Twenty-eight whales were found alive and 15 were dead; however, the dead may include some of the 11 that died on Monday, it said.
As the whales were found already in the water, before an 8:00 am high tide, rescuers moved the whales further out and then released them to swim freely.
“The pilot whales have been swimming in the sea off Farewell Spit today, but the whales have been close to shore and it’s uncertain whether they will swim off or possibly re-strand,” the DoC said.
Project Jonah, a non-profit that specializes in the protection and conservation of marine mammals, said that they were “a small group that have split from the main pod but they are still free swimming.”
The whales were spread out over a few kilometers, with rangers monitoring them from a boat as well as on shore with volunteers in case they began swimming towards the beach again.
In 2017, some 700 whales, of which 250 died, also stranded at Farewell Spit, a 34-kilometer-long sand bar that arcs over the shallow Golden Bay, separating it from the open ocean.
Whale strandings occur in the area most summers, but experts have been unable to pinpoint one common reason in particular for this.
The largest whale stranding occurred in the Chatham Islands, about 800 kilometers off the southeast coast of New Zealand when about 1,000 pilot whales beached in that remote location in 1918.
Scientists have not been able to determine the reasons why whales become stranded en masse. However, noise pollution and navigation errors are possibilities.