Night tides throw whales back on Spit

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 13:21 19/01/2014
stranded whales
Project Jonah

SAD SIGHT: Whales stranded on Farewell Spit early this morning.

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A pod of 63 stranded pilot whales are being shepherded off the beach and into deeper water as the tide recedes this afternoon off Farewell Spit.

Takaka Conservation Services manager John Mason said 97 people were in the water trying to get the whales off the tidal flats in the hope that they would swim away rather than die on the beach.

High tide was just after midday but it could be mid-afternoon before they knew whether they were successful or not.

''We're right in the middle of the refloat and we have got to get those whales into deeper water because if they stop moving they will strand, '' Mason said.

He said 21 pilot whales had been lost in the past three days. Most of the 63 whales in the water today had stranded on Saturday but more had come in overnight and joined them.

Farewell Spit at top of the South Island is a natural trap for the pilot whales and mass strandings happen regularly on the large tidal flats where the tides recede more than a kilometre at low tide.

Volunteers who were up to waist deep in the tide were trying to keep pushing the whales out as the water dropped.'

They had tried all sorts of different techniques to save the whales, including noise devices, compressed air bubble curtains, human chains, shepherding with boats and decoys, Mason said.

All of them occasionally worked to a certain extent but none could be relied on to work with every stranding.

Conservation groups were desperate for help from more volunteers after weeks of stranding emergencies at the top of the South Island.

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