Volunteers at Farewell Spit whale stranding: 'One of the saddest things'

MARTIN De RUYTER/Stuff.co.nz

Aerial footage shows the scale of the whale stranding at Farewell Spit

One of the first volunteers at the mass whale stranding on Farewell Spit says "it is one of the saddest things" he has seen.  

Peter and Ana Wiles joined hundreds of others who worked quickly to refloat the surviving whales before high tide on Friday morning.

Peter said the water's edge was lined with whale carcasses with more floating in the incoming tide. 

The water was cold but it couldn't stop volunteers dedicated to trying to save the pilot whales.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX MEDIA

The water was cold but it couldn't stop volunteers dedicated to trying to save the pilot whales.

"It is one of the saddest things I have seen, that many sentient creatures just wasted on the beach."

READ MORE:
Live: Hundreds of whales dead
Mass whale stranding at Farewell Spit 
* The worry for rescuers 

Why whales strand themselves, and how to help
Video: Devastating vision from Farewell Spit 
Photos: Whales as far as the eye can see

As more volunteers arrived, Peter said there was sadness at the number of dying whales mixed with cheers when one was successfully re-floated.

AARON WOOD/STUFF.CO.NZ

There's no one reason why whales become beached.

The couple were on holiday in Collingwood, Golden Bay when their daughter got in touch to say she had heard about the stranding on Farewell Spit and that there was a call for volunteers.

Ana said they were among the first on the sand just before 9am and got on a bus which took them several kilometres up the spit.

"We managed to float quite a few all whales off and there were an awful lot of dead ones in the shallows so it was really, really sad."

NINA HINDMASRH/STUFF.CO.NZ

Volunteers sing to stranded whales as attempts are made to push them back out to sea.

She said looking across the beach there were so many fins in the air but many of the whales weren't breathing and a soft whistling noise could be heard from those still alive. 

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"Just sadness because there are so many fins in the air, no breathing."

The couple spent an hour and a half in the water preparing for the high tide when the whales had the best chance of survival. 

"One of the nicest things was we managed to float off a couple and they had babies and the babies were following.

A heartbreaking scene.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX MEDIA

A heartbreaking scene.

"It makes you feel good but it is very sad as well."

She said Department of Conservation staff, Project Jonah volunteers and members of the public formed a human chain at high tide and helped to turn around any of the whales that were heading back to shore.

They were warned that the whales could become aggressive and to keep clear of their mouths and tails.

The stranding is thought to be the third biggest in New Zealand's history.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX MEDIA

The stranding is thought to be the third biggest in New Zealand's history.

"There was no aggression from them, I think they fully understand we were trying to help."

The couple got out of the water after high tide, having done what they could to help and headed back to Collingwood to warm up.

Ana said she hoped the whales that had been re-floated would head back out to sea with the outgoing tide.

People respond to the call for help at Farewell Spit where more than 400 pilot whales have stranded.
TOMAS CONNOR

People respond to the call for help at Farewell Spit where more than 400 pilot whales have stranded.

Pete Wiles said the water's edge was lined with whale carcasses when he arrived at the stranding site at Farewell Spit.
Pete Wiles

Pete Wiles said the water's edge was lined with whale carcasses when he arrived at the stranding site at Farewell Spit.

Pete and Ana Wiles joined volunteers to form a human chain and herd the surviving whales back out to sea at high tide.
Pete Wiles

Pete and Ana Wiles joined volunteers to form a human chain and herd the surviving whales back out to sea at high tide.

 - Stuff

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