Dozens of dead whales at spit

BILL MOORE
Last updated 18:16 15/11/2011

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LATEST: The survival prospects for 34 pilot whales stranded on tidal flats about 2 kilometres off the tip of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay worsened last night.

Department of Conservation Golden Bay area manager John Mason said the whales, trapped in the shallows, had moved further in towards the spit on the midday high tide.

By 4.30pm the weather conditions in the area were "horrible'', with a 40-knot northerly wind, rain, and poor visibility.

Twenty-one dead whales and one which was suffering and had to be put down were found last night. This morning another 10 dead were found, but 34 live whales were discovered, including two young ones. Their remote location and their distance from shore ruled out any rescue attempt.

DOC had hoped that they would be able to free themselves and go out to sea  on the high tide, but Mr Mason said instead of that they had come closer to the shore.

"The initial assessment is that few if any have managed to refloat themselves, although one or two might have got away.''

There is another high tide at 1.07am, but the tides are reducing, and the fact that they have moved towards the shoreline lowered hopes that they might refloat.

"There's really nothing we can do for them so we just have to hope that they manage to get out by themselves.''

Mr Mason said DOC would reassess the situation in the morning before deciding if any of the whales needed to be euthanised.

They were spread over about a kilometre in a tidal area past the Farewell Spit lighthouse and near the gannet colony, he said.

Tissue and blood samples would be taken from the dead whales and a scientist was arriving overnight to also gather stomach contents.

The first stranded whales were spotted yesterday evening by commercial tour operator Chris Pomeroy.

Two DOC staff were sent to the scene, near the gannet colony past the lighthouse, and found 21 dead whales and one alive but in poor condition, which was euthanised with a rifle.

At low tide this morning, DOC returned to the scene and found the total had grown to 65, with 31 dead.

Mason said the whales, which measure up to five metres, were stranded on the tidal flats two to three kilometres offshore.

The stranding season is from November to March.

"This is quite early in the season, but it's not unusual."

It was only the location that ruled out a rescue attempt, he said.

"If this had been just off Puponga, we'd have been out there trying to refloat them at lunchtime. But when you're two to three kilometres offshore and you have to stand to refloat a whale in water that's chest deep, and you've then got to wade three kilometres back to the beach - we don't want to put people in that position."

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