Volunteers in New Zealand work to stop fresh whale stranding

Many of the 400 pilot whales stranded at Farewell Spit early today. Image Project Jonah

"But in spite of best efforts. approximately 200 pilot whales that were free-swimming, have stranded", a Department of Conservation spokesman said.

Some of the surviving whales had been re-floated at high tide this morning but many quickly became stranded once the tide ebbed.

New Zealand is one of those places where one of the highest number of whale stranding occurs. Recently, Care2′s Alicia Graef brought us the tragic story of a Cuvier's beaked whale that continually tried to beach itself and eventually died.

More than 400 whales beached themselves in New Zealand, hundreds of them found dead, the New Zealand's Department of Conservation said Friday.

A Department of Conservations operations manager, Andrew Lamason, told the Herald that another 50 or so whales were lingering offshore.

Golden Bay is a lethal spot for pilot whales.

The call went out on Saturday evening for volunteers to head to the beach with wet suits, buckets and sheets to help the whales at a spit at the top of the South Island.

At a guess, Mr Lamason said 20 to 30 whales are still stranded on the beach, while the remaining survivors have been "refloated" - the process of getting them "off the sand and into water they can swim in on their own".

It is feared even more whales could be stranded by sunrise in yet another mass stranding. 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".

The stranded whales can not be helped at night for safety reasons.

There was a successful refloat of whales on Saturday and a pod of 200 were kept at sea, but joy turned to despair with three new strandings about 5pm. Some scientists speculate that healthy whales are chasing prey too far inshore or that they are trying to help stranded family members. A receding tide can easily strand the entire pod, resulting in mass strandings.

Among the volunteers was Deb Ward, who hoped a lifting machine she and her husband have invented would help save as many whales as possible.

This was the third worst whale stranding in New Zealand.

Sometimes the whales are old and sick, injured, or make navigational errors particularly along gentle sloping beaches.

The largest was in 1918, when about 1,000 pilot whales came ashore on the Chatham Islands.