New Zealand Rescuers Form Human Chain to Help Stranded Whales

By Harry Pearl, Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Whale rescuers in New Zealand linked arms in neck-deep water on Saturday to try and prevent about 200 pilot whales from stranding themselves again in a remote bay, where 300 of the animals died this week.

Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

The incident, in the shallow muddy waters of Golden Bay, at the northwest tip of South Island, was New Zealand’s largest known whale stranding since 1985, when 450 of the animals were stranded in Auckland, and the third largest on record.

People look at stranded pilot whales seen on the beach in Golden Bay, New Zealand after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings on Friday, in this still frame taken from video released February 10, 2017. TV NZ/TV3 (NEW ZEALAND) via REUTERS TV

A group of about 100 volunteers, supported by three boats, successfully turned the whales away from shore by blocking their path, conservation officials said in a statement.

By mid-afternoon, the whales had moved offshore and were being monitored by boat as the tide dropped.

“Emotionally, it’s quite stressful, because you can hear the whales calling, which is really quite strong,” one volunteer told broadcaster TVNZ.

Although about 100 whales stranded overnight were floated just after dawn, a fifth of that number beached themselves again in the afternoon.

Some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales marked with an ‘X’ to indicate they have died can be seen together after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

“These whales are not in good condition and will be euthanised to relieve their suffering,” the department of conservation said in its statement.

Since a conservation worker spotted the whales washed ashore on Thursday evening, rescuers have spent two days pouring water over the beached whales to try and keep them cool, while waiting to catch high tides to carry them out to sea again.

Volunteers try to keep alive some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ross Wearing

School children have sung to soothe the distressed animals.

The scale of the latest event “was a shock,” even for a country with the most whale strandings in the world, said Darren Grover of Project Jonah, a marine environmental group.

The precise cause was not known, though beached whales are not uncommon at Golden Bay, whose murky low-lying waters Project Jonah says can confuse the marine mammals’ sonar, leaving them vulnerable to stranding when the tide ebbs.

Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale stranding, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Pilot whales are not listed as endangered, but little is known about their population in New Zealand waters.

Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive back out to sea after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers try to guide some of the stranded pilot whales still alive (in background) back out to sea after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps
Volunteers attend to some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales still alive after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

(Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Watch New Zealand volunteers in race to rescue hundreds of whales