New fears of another whale stranding at Farewell Spit
A pod of 200 pilot whales is milling around Taupata Point near Farewell Spit, sparking fresh fears of another whale stranding.
Department of Conservation (DOC) spokeswoman Trish Grant said it was believed the whales were the same ones who had been refloated over the weekend, after a mass stranding on Friday.
She said about 10 DOC staff were out in boats and at the beach, ready to try and deter the whales if they began swimming towards the shore.
Several hundred dead pilot whales will be moved to a closed area of the Farewell Spit nature reserve, and left to decompose in the dunes.
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DOC originally planned to secure the more than 250 dead whales where they stranded on a beach accessible to the public. The carcasses were to be moved together and fenced off.
But in a revised plan released at lunchtime on Monday, the department said it had reconsidered its plans and would move the whales with a digger further up Farewell Spit to the area of the nature reserve that was not open to the public.
The whales would be moved off the shore and into the dunes.
"It has been decided it is more suitable to take the dead whales out of the area that is open for public walking access," a DOC spokeswoman said.
The three separate pods that beached over three nights since last Friday have left carnage along Farewell Spit and a huge clean up for Department of Conservation workers.
DOC said on Monday morning the pilot whales that were in the area on Sunday were last seen late yesterday about six kilometres offshore swimming towards Separation Point at the northern end of Abel Tasman National Park. It is hoped they have made their way out to open sea.
DOC rangers searched the coastline on the western side of Golden Bay on Monday morning to as far along the inner side of Farewell Spit as it was possible to go, and no stranded live whales were seen.
It was not possible to use a plane or boat to look for whales this morning due to adverse weather conditions, including strong offshore winds and low cloud causing poor visibility.
The beach covered in more than 250 rotting whale carcasses has been closed off, as they could "explode" on volunteers.
Department of Conservation ranger Mike Ogle said when the dead whales got too warm they were "just nasty".
"These things explode from the stomach and if you're standing right there it's not very nice getting a 'gut bomb' on your face," he said.
"I've been too close to that a few times myself and it's really unpleasant; you just get sick."
On Monday, they would start making arrangements about how best to dispose of the rotting carcasses, Ogle said.
"We've never had to deal with 250 carcasses before, and most of them weigh over a tonne," he said. "It's an awful lot of whales to get rid of."
Last Thursday night's stranding of the pod of 416 whales was thought to be the third largest stranding of whales recorded in the country's history.
About 300 – close to 75 per cent – had died by the time Department of Conservation staff arrived on Friday morning.
Staff from DOC, Project Jonah and volunteers attempted to re-float the survivors at high tide, about 10.30am, but were only partially successful.
An estimated 50 whales returned to the sea. However, the remaining 80 to 90 survivors re-stranded in shallow water.
The mission for desperate volunteers then changed to keeping them alive as the tide receded and the whales were exposed in puddles, or on the sand.
About 500 volunteers used sheets to cover the whales' thick skin and buckets to continuously pour water over them to keep them cool.
At high tide on Saturday, volunteers scrambled into the water to push 200 fresh whales from a new super pod swimming into shore by forming a human chain in the waves.
Their efforts were successful, but volunteers were forced to leave 50 surviving alone overnight on Saturday.
DOC then euthanised 20 of the surviving whales with a rifle, whales which were too ill to be rescued or stay alive.
It had been hoped the survivors would re-float naturally and swim back to sea at high tide that night.
Many surviving whales refloated naturally on Saturday night, but eighteen were found on Sunday morning in Puponga, less than a kilometre from where the 416 stranded themselves on Friday.
All but two were successfully refloated at high tide on Sunday where they rejoined the larger pod of 200 swimming in the bay.
Hundreds of volunteers and DoC staff spent the day hanging around at Triangle Flat at the base of Farewell spit, where Ogle said they spent spent the day watching the horizon "full of whales".
"There were about 200 whales in numerous pods just swimming around at risk of stranding," he said.
"We were really concerned they might come and investigate the stranded ones, but they didn't which is great news."
Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover said the team was on hold at the stranding site.
"We will be checking the beach in the next few days and listening out for reports. If these whales do re-strand then we will be starting again."
Grover said the wider community response was amazing.
Volunteer Imogen Harris, 11, said on Sunday they had just been waiting anxiously all day to see of the whales re-stranded.
"Yesterday (Saturday) it was really full on, we were doing so much getting the whales out and forming our [human] chain, but today it's just been a really long day waiting and hoping."