About three dozen pilot whales are refloated and heading out to sea, after surviving a mass stranding of nearly 200 whales on Friday.
Wellington (dpa) – About 60 pilot whales had been refloated and were heading out to sea Saturday night, after surviving a mass stranding of nearly 200 whales on Friday, the Department of Conservation said.
More than 100 whales died after the pod became stuck at Farewell Spit, a narrow sandbar at the northern tip of the South Island. It was one of the country's largest mass beachings.
Golden Bay Conservation Services manager Andrew Lamason said Saturday's refloat at high tide had gone well.
"They are grouping together and they are all heading south which is a really good thing, they are heading out into deeper and deeper water all the time so we are packing up our operations for the night and it is looking pretty positive at this stage.
"We will have people back out scanning the beaches first thing in the morning and we will be putting a plane in the sky to see where they are."
He said the whales were in good condition through Saturday with volunteers using buckets, sheets and shovels to keep them wet through the day.
Lamason said earlier he was concerned that the whales would suffer if they continued to re-strand, and that the department would consider euthanizing the surviving whales if Saturday night's attempt at refloating was unsuccessful.
He was more optimistic after the surviving whales stayed in good condition throughout a day of cooler temperatures and light rain.
"We've got to be hopeful but if we get through to Monday lunch time and there is a low tide, then if we have got whales that are stranded then, we will probably start euthanizing at that point."
Lamason said it was not safe for volunteers and staff to stay in the water with the animals after darkness fell.
"There is no way we can put people in the water in the dark around a 2-ton wild animal. I would be looking for people washed up on the sand as well," Lamason said.
New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, with an average of about 300 dolphins and whales stranding each year, according to marine mammal conservation group Project Jonah.