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15 February 2017

Rescuers Work To Save Hundreds Of Pilot Whales Stranded In New Zealand

Rescuerssaved hundreds of stranded pilot whales after they beached together (a massstranding) at Farewell Spit on New Zealandís South Island. More than 600 pilotwhales stranded making it the largest stranding of its kind in New Zealand. 

Map of Farewell Spit, New Zealand
Around 500 human volunteers used buckets and towels to keep each whale wet and cool,and prevent sunburn. They made sure their blowholes were clear of the water sothat they didnít drown. Rescuers also tried to reassure and calm the frightened whales. Some people sang to the whale they are caring for, others talked gentlyto them soothing them and staying close to them. 

Once the next tide started to come in, the whales were able to refloat and move backinto the sea. Rescuers formed a human chain in the water to encourage the whales to head away from the beach and back out to safer, deeper waters where they are normally found. About 400 whales were successfully refloated and were last seen swimming six kilometres (four miles) offshore on Sunday evening. Sadly a further 300 pilot whales died on the beach. 

Pilot whales
Why did they strand?
The precise cause of  the strandings is not known, but pilot whales have mass stranded before in this bay. Itísv ery large and shallow, the seafloor is sandy and the waters are murky. The whalesí echolocation (sonar) doesnít work well in these conditions and so it is easy for them to become confused and disorientated. If the whales were trying to get round the top of South Island, it is possible that they simply got lost and made a navigational error, swimming into shallow water and stranding.

Pilot whales live in very tight social groups and most experts think that when they strand it is generally eitherdue to a lead whale making a navigational mistake, or one individual becoming ill or wounded and leading the rest of their pod onto the shore.

More about whale strandings.

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