Race against time for whale pod

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2014

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Whale rescuers are hoping a pod of about 40 whales gets out of Golden Bay before Tropical Cyclone June arrives and makes refloating impossible.

A pod of 46 pilot whales was re floated about midday yesterday at Puponga and the whales were milling off Farewell Spit yesterday afternoon.

About 62 whales stranded early on Saturday morning and again on Sunday after being refloated. Some died in stressful conditions and others were put down.

Department of Conservation Takaka conservation services manager John Mason said things had looked promising yesterday afternoon, but rescuers would not relax until the pod had left the bay. "At some stage this has to stop. If they restrand we'll make a decision about what we do. It has to stop tomorrow because of the bad weather that's coming.

"They won't have much chance if they're still stranded tomorrow. There will be a gale-force onshore wind which will make it impossible to refloat them," he said.

About 100 volunteers had been involved in getting the whales refloated. Among them was Wellington veterinarian and Project Jonah volunteer Lydia Uddstrom, who flew down to help on Saturday.

Ms Uddstrom, 25, was one of more than 2200 trained Project Jonah volunteers around the country. This was the third mass stranding she had experienced at Farewell Spit.

"This one is fairly typical unfortunately, with the whales going and restranding. [But] this one is different with the storm on its way, so we've got everything crossed that they make it out before then." Once the whales were refloated yesterday "it was really a matter of wait and see", she said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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