More than 40 stranded whales die

OFF COURSE: Pilot whales stranded at remote Spirits Bay, 90km north of Kaitaia.
OFF COURSE: Pilot whales stranded at remote Spirits Bay, 90km north of Kaitaia.

More than 40 of the 80 pilot whales stranded at Spirits Bay have died and the rest will have to be relocated by road because of rough weather.

The pod of pilot whales are stranded in a remote bay about 90km north of Kaitaia. They will be moved about an hour south to Rarawa Beach.

Department of Conservation (DOC) staff were alerted to the stranding at 11.30am after a local spotted the pilot whales on the sand.

DOC's operations manager on the beach Patrick Whaley said the department had already had to euthanase some of the weakest and most stressed animals.

Volunteers from Project Jonah, Far North Whale Rescue, and other DOC offices in Northland and Auckland, along with members of the local Te Hapua community are bracing themselves for a long night.

About 25 of the whales had so far been cleared by DOC for relocation which would begin in the morning, Project Jonah chairman Mark Simpson said.

"They will be lifted up with big nets on to the back of trucks with straw or hay loaded on them."

It was not clear how many trucks would be involved in the move but more help from the public was needed.

The weather and sea conditions at Spirits Bay meant refloating the whales there was not possible.

Mr Simpson said volunteers were needed and would be shown what to do. They would need wet weather gear and would have to sleep in their car or their own tent.

Help would also be needed at Rarawa Beach tomorrow morning to help unload the whales and stabilise them in the water before release.

"More whales are still coming in. Pilot whales have very strong social bonds and they try to help each other so more keep getting stuck," Mr Simpson said.

This is the second mass whale stranding in the Far North in two months.

In August, a pod of 58 pilot whales became stranded at Karikari beach.

Upon discovery, 43 were already dead. A further six died during the rescue attempt, with nine successfully refloated.

The rescue operation involved a huge volunteer effort.