Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has thanke   department of conservation staff and volunteers helping to re-float pilot whales after a mass stranding at Farewell spit overnight.

“More than 400 pilot whales stranded overnight in one of the largest recorded mass strandings in New Zealand history. Sadly it has been confirmed most have died. DOC staff and volunteers re-floated about 100 on this morning’s high tide but unfortunately 50 of them have since re-stranded,” Ms Barry says.

“I’m advised there won’t be another attempt to re-float the whales on tonight’s high tide because it is too dangerous for people to be close to the whales in the dark.”

There will not be another attempt to refloat the whales stranded on Farewell Spit until tomorrow, with volunteers working with 60 whales and monitoring another 50 offshore.
Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with efforts to refloat the whales.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with efforts to refloat the whales. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said about 75 percent of the original pod of 416 whales which stranded overnight had already died.

He said the 50 whales that were being monitored offshore were believed to be part of the original pod which stranded overnight, and not a new pod.

More than 400 pilot whales were caught at the base of the spit in Golden Bay with most of them dying, but more than 100 were refloated by hundreds of volunteers and DoC workers on the high tide at 10.30am.

A boat on the water and a line of people in the sea had tried to encourage the whales to swim in the right direction.

It was hoped the high tide at 11pm tonight would refloat the 50 or so pilot whales still stranded on the beach.

Department of Conservation range Mike Ogle said the whales stood a reasonable chance of surviving as they were in fairly good condition still, with little sign of blistering skin.

He said it was too dangerous to stay with the whales overnight.

“Project Jonah, local volunteers and DOC staff, led by Andrew Lamason, have worked hard to save the whales and I really want to commend them for their heroic efforts.”

“It is terribly sad to see these magnificent creatures in this state and distressing and traumatic for the volunteers to see the hundreds of dead whales on the beach.”

“Around 300 volunteers are still on the beach and will look after the whales until nightfall. Hundreds of volunteers are set to return to the area tomorrow when another attempt to re-float the whales will be made,”  Ms Barry says.

This is the third largest recorded whale stranding in NZ since data started being collected in the 1800’s. 1000 whales were stranded on the Chatham Islands in 1918 and 450 in Auckland in 1985.Source- RadioNZ