Rescuers Save 60 Beached Whales, Lose 140 Others

It’s been a rough couple days for animal rescue volunteers as a pod of approximately 200 pilot whales beached itself on Farewell Spit, a remote location on New Zealand’s South Island.

The event happened on Friday. Word of the latest incident spread rapidly, and more than 140 conservationists and experts rushed to water down the giant mammals and cover them. The hope was to keep the creatures alive until the tide rose again and they could be refloated back out into the water.

Whales beaching is nothing new here due to the geography of the area; the Department of Conservation responds to an average 85 such incidents a year. However, it’s rare for them to happen in such large numbers, and media reports say this was the worst stranding in the area in 15 years.

“We’ve had a really good crew of volunteers, and people have been wanting to come from all over the country,” said Department of Conservation area manager Andrew Lamason.

Refloating whales is dangerous work. In this case, lead whales were taken out on pontoons and other whales were moved to follow them.

“They’re all off and the lead whales are actually now swimming into deep water and are going in the right direction,” Lamason said. “Our guys are moving in behind them to keep an eye on them and it’s looking quite good.”

The team was eventually able to get 60 of the whales refloated, and they did not return to shore. Unfortunately, by late Saturday, 140 of the whales had either returned to land or simply stayed on the shore and died there.

(Beached Whales New Zealand Image: BuzzFeed)