Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Rescuers save 33 pilot whales in New Zealand

AP , WELLINGTON

Rescuers in New Zealand managed to coax 33 beached whales back out into deep waters yesterday, but another 15 in the same pod died, a conservation official said.

The 48 pilot whales stranded on Saturday at Port Levy on South Island, but scores of volunteers joined Department of Conservation workers to refloat them off the shallow, muddy inlet, said Grant Campbell, the department’s community relations manager.

It was the third mass stranding on the New Zealand coast this summer. Some 125 pilot whales died in the two other beachings, while 43 were returned to the ocean.

Campbell said that in the latest incident, residents were quick to help after spotting the whales apparently feeding in the inlet before they stranded.

“It’s a very, very shallow bay in Port Levy, very muddy, so whether they were chasing food and got caught in the shallows, we don’t know,” he said.

Whales in the pod were up to 5m long, while a few calves were between 1m and 1.5m, Campbell said.

Resident Ted Howden said the pod stranded twice.

Residents helped the whales back out to open waters on Saturday, but by yesterday morning they were all back on the beach, he told TV One News.

More than 80 people rallied to aid the mammals, and as the tide flowed in yesterday, “they began floating and we were able to push them out, and away they went,” Howden said.

By later yesterday, the survivors had been shepherded into deeper waters by a couple of boats and were swimming away, Campbell said.

Specialists will carry out autopsies on two of the dead whales today, before the 15 dead mammals are buried high up the beach, he said.

Large numbers of whales become stranded on New Zealand’s beaches each summer as they pass by from Antarctic waters on their way to breeding grounds.

Scientists have been unable to explain why whales become stranded.

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