Hundreds of whales die in mass stranding on New Zealand beach
Locals urged to volunteer to save surviving pilot whales in one of country's worst beachings
As many as 300 pilot whales have died after becoming stranded on a New Zealand beach.
Around 416 of the animals, the majority already dead, were found on Farwell Spit, a remote beach on South Island, in the early hours of Friday morning, the Department of Conservation (DoC) said. It is believed to be the largest mass stranding in New Zealand in decades.
Locals were asked to forgo work and school commitments to save the remaining whales, helping to keep the animals wet and calm and attempting to refloat them.
They were successfully refloated at high tide, 10.30am local time, but by the afternoon's low tide, at least half of them had rebeached themselves.
Conservation staff and up to 500 volunteers are now focused on keeping the surviving whales as healthy as possible until high tide on Saturday, says The Guardian.
Reasons for whales beaching themselves are not entirely understood. It is thought that navigational errors are the most common cause, although whales that are sick or injured may purposefully beach themselves.
According to the BBC, a beached whale will often send out a distress signal to the other members of its pod, who then get stranded on the shore as the tide recedes.
Andrew Lamason, DoC operations manager, told the New Zealand Herald some of the whales were looking "very distressed" as many "slowly slipped away".
He also hinted that many of the animals that had returned to the water were behaving irregularly and could rebeach themselves.
"There are about 50 whales offshore," he said. "They're not looking great out there; just milling around."
Staff and volunteers had hoped the whales would turn on the high tide and leave the bay, but are now preparing for further strandings.