Volunteers Arrive in Droves to Save Stranded Whales

Photo: Serge Zollinger, via The New Zealand Herald

Whale lovers in New Zealand have had a challenging past few days. It all began late last week, when 82 pilot whales became beached in the sands of Farewell Spit, on the northern end of the South Island. The Department of Conservation (DOC), along with over 100 volunteers worked tirelessly over the weekend to refloat the animals, saving all but 17 whales -- but just days later, 65 of them became were stranded yet again. And like before, concerned locals arrived in droves to help out their animal counterparts. According to The Nelson Mail, more than 100 volunteers turned out to lend a hand during the second mass whale stranding to occur within a week. Along with staff from the DOC, the group worked throughout the morning to keep the animals hydrated as they awaited the rising tide to return them to the sea.

Eventually, all 65 re-stranded pilot whales were successfully rescued, thanks to a group effort one DOC official says yielded a "very good result." Instead of attempting to move the animals back into the surf, the team opted to care for the whales on shore in hopes that they'd return themselves one the high tide rolled in.

"New evidence suggests that moving stranded whales causes them a lot of stress and pain," DOC ranger Simon Walls told The Mail.

Although the efforts of the hundred-strong volunteers has been deemed a success, conservation officials are waiting to see if the animals will become beached yet again, or if they'll remain out at sea. The cause behind the stranding remains a mystery, yet some officials suspect that the region's difficult geography may have contributed to a sort of 'navigational mistake'.

"Farewell Spit is a bit of a trap," Department of Conservation spokesperson spokeswoman, Trish Grant, told The New Zealand Herald. "You need to veer right to get past it, and they didn't seem to know that."

Unfortunately, the such incidents have become all too common in recent years, and the efforts of volunteers haven't always been enough. The Herald explains:

Pilot whales are about 4m-6m long. They are the most common species of whale seen in New Zealand waters.

Last month 24 pilot whales died after stranding in Parengarenga harbour, near Cape Reinga in the Far North.

In December 2009, more than 120 whales died in two separate beachings at Farewell Spit and Colville Bay, north of Coromandel.

In December 2006, rescuers managed to save the majority of 140 pilot whales stranded at Puponga Bay.

But just two weeks later, on New Year's Day 2007, 50 whales died after beaching at Farewell Spit.

Although only time will tell if the efforts of the those who turned out to help the stranded pilot whales will be enough to save them in the long-run, the efforts of those volunteers are to be lauded regardless. But even if the reasons behind mass whale beaching is never fully understood, the dedication and perseverance of more than a few concerned humans, at least, is constantly reaffirmed.

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Tags: New Zealand | Oceans | Whales