Around 300 pilot whales have died after stranding in Golden Bay at Farewell Spit on New Zealand’s South Island. The location has been the scene of mass strandings in the past.
Most of the whales were already dead by the time rescuers arrived but around 100 whales have been released back into the sea in the hope they will head back out to the deeper waters where these whales are normally found. Around 500 people took part in the rescue.
This is the largest stranding of its kind in New Zealand. Pilot whales often strand in large groups in the region. They live in very tight social groups and usually when they beach it appears that either a lead individual has made a navigational mistake, or one individual has become sick or wounded and led the rest of their pod onto the shore.
Update (13/2): Over the weekend the rescued whales were joined by a new group of around 2-300 whales. A human chain was formed to prevent the whales stranding. 17 whales did strand overnight and were rescued by a team from the New Zealand strandings organization, Project Jonah and other volunteers. These whales then rejoined the main group. Since then, the whales have remained 1-2 kilometres offshore but there have been no further strandings. The situation is being monitored until the whales return to deeper waters.
Update (15/2): Eight more whales were found on a beach at Taupata Point, south of Farewell Spit on Tuesday. Rescuers kept the whales cool and wet and hoped that the high tide overnight would enable the whales to refloat themselves. This appears to have been successful with no whales still on the beach on Wednesday.