Race against time to save stranded whales
Whale rescue volunteers found 34 dead pilot whales on New Zealand’s South Island at first light today.
The whales were part of a pod of about 100 that stranded at Farewell Spit on the north-west tip of the South Island yesterday.
The 34 deaths come despite a midnight high tide in which the whales could have refloated themselves.
“It’s a high loss for the night,” Project Jonah chief executive Kimberley Muncaster said.
However 39 whales were alive and volunteers were being marshalled to rescue them.
At least 50 Project Jonah marine mammal medics and several dozen volunteers, including tourists and locals, were gathered to help.
“We’re going to be shifting volunteers by vehicle down to the whales to start immediate first aid on the survivors. It will be a matter of keeping them cool and comfortable in the hours ahead.”
High tide was at 11am and the intent would be to refloat them on that high tide.
Twenty eight whales went missing overnight, Department of Conservation area manager John Mason said.
A pod of stranded pilot whales at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. Photo: Naomi Arnold
“Either we haven’t found them yet or they’ve managed to refloat themselves.
“They’ve moved slightly overnight. They’ve scattered somewhat.”
Paul Luxton from Picton said: “We got here late last night, just missed out on helping yesterday so we’re here bright and early this morning to help out.”
Volunteers had worked desperately yesterday to save the pod, working to keep the whales cool and upright.
Project Jonah marine mammal medics had also been called to give the whales first aid.
However, volunteers had to leave the scene for the evening about 8.45pm yesterday for safety reasons.
Project Jonah volunteer Jo Woods, of Motueka, said it was difficult to leave the whales to their fate.
“It’s hard to walk away. You get attached. My one had a big chunk behind his eye missing and every time we talked to him he’d would put his head up and shake it.”
She spent the day laying wet sheets on the whales to keep them cool and using sandbags to keep them upright. She trained as a volunteer after seeing a previous stranding on the Spit.
“I realised I would have no idea what to do and I just want to be helpful rather than doing nothing,” she said.
Nils Alke of Germany was travelling in New Zealand and went to the Spit to see some pictures and museum exhibits of past strandings. He found a real one instead.
“It was such a coincidence to see,” he said. “It would be even better to see them swimming in the sea.”
Farewell Spit EcoTours manager Paddy Gillooly has attended about 10 strandings in the 25 years he has been a tour driver.