More whales now stranded on Farewell Spit

Fifty six whales stranded near the base of Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island will be left to refloat themselves tonight because the dark conditions are too dangerous for rescue staff.

Fifty three pilot whales were discovered beached early this morning in Golden Bay but 13 had died before DOC arrived. Forty were refloated on the high tide around noon 

However, the 40 whales re-stranded and another 16 whales also beached at Farewell Spit.

A group of DOC staff, Project Jonah volunteers and locals looked after the 56 whales until dark, keeping them wet and cool and stopping them getting sunburnt while they are sat on the sand.

The whales would come afloat on the midnight high tide and DOC hoped they would find their way safely out to sea, however, the whales behaviour was unpredictable.

“We hope they get off on their own devices. It always really comes down to the whales. Currently a good number of those whales are in good condition. In the mix there are ten to a dozen whales that didn't appear to be so healthy,” said DOC ranger, Neil Murray. 

The rescue staff would have liked to help the whales out to sea, using pontoons to carry the largest whales which the rest of the pod would follow, however, it is too dangerous to do in the dark at high tide.

“The whales sometimes cooperate, and sometimes they are thrashing. It is a complex operation that we just can't face the challenges and risk of doing it in the dark,” said Murray.

Rescue staff will be back at the beach at dawn tomorrow.

This is not the first stranding at Farewell Spit this summer.

Two weeks ago 12 whales died and 27 were euthanised near Farewell Spit, while a pod of 13 stranded three times earlier this week, resulting in the natural death of five whales and euthanisation of eight.

"They do seem to strand at this time of year, but there's really no 'normal' whale stranding," Murray said.

"[Farewell Spit] does seem to be a trap for whales. It has always trapped them, right back through history."