Introduction

The whale rescue to refloat stranded whales at Farewell Spit continued on Saturday 11 February.

Date:  11 February 2017

Read more recent updates.

Update 5:30 pm

DOC and Project Jonah are calling for more volunteers.

The situation has changed rapidly since the mass stranding yesterday of more than 400 pilot whales and the loss of many of them.

Attempts to refloat the remaining live whales was successful but 20 of those whales have restranded and will need to be euthanised. DOC took the decision to humanely euthanise the whales out of concern for their welfare.

The others looked to be safe but in spite of best efforts by everyone to prevent further losses, the large pod of approximately 200 pilot whales that were free-swimming, have stranded near the original site and DOC and Project Jonah are calling for more volunteers.

Volunteers must have a wet suit – this is compulsory. Buckets and sheets are also needed.

Local volunteers are needed today. Others can come tomorrow to help refloat those remaining on the incoming tide. If DOC, Project Jonah and the communities can work together, we may salvage some of the stranded whales.

Not all stranded whales can successfully be refloated. Even when some whales are saved, they may still restrand as has happened in this instance and prolongs the effort and reduces the chances of success.

If you would like to help contact Project Jonah who are co-ordinating the response.

Update 2:20 pm:

80 of the 100 whales that were refloated this morning have joined the second pod of 200 whales and are in the water. Currently they are offshore 6 km further up the spit. They are being monitored by boat for the next two hours as the tide goes out. 

20 whales have re-stranded at the original site. These whales are not in good condition and will be euthanised to relieve their suffering. A further attempt to refloat them and get them back out to sea would be unlikely to succeed given the situation they are in.

We are not able to successfully refloat stranded whales in every case. Even when some whales are saved, others inevitably die from injuries and the stress of being stranded, particularly the more they re-strand, as commonly occurs, and the longer it goes on.

It was a tough call to make and the decision not to attempt to refloat them and to euthanise the remaining whales was taken after talking to New Zealand Project Jonah’s Daren Grover. Unsuccessful attempts at refloating the whales would likely lead to more injury and stress to them and prolong the whales’ suffering. DOC has taken the decision to humanely euthanise the whales out of concern for their welfare.

Massey University pathologists are carrying out necropsies on the dead whales to try to determine the cause of death. A necropsy usually consists of a full post mortem examination of dead animals. This is done with the support of iwi/hāpu and if the animal(s) in question is suitable for examination.

Update 11:40 am:

The 100 whales that were on the beach this morning have been refloated on the high tide. 

There is a second pod of around 200 pilot whales in the water that have headed towards the base of the spit. The two groups are mingling with each other but at this stage there is no defined movement in any direction. 

There are 100 volunteers making a human chain in neck deep water endeavouring to prevent the whales restranding, with around another 200 volunteers on the beach. There are three boats in the water monitoring the situation. 

DOC would like to acknowledge the amazing work done by Project Jonah and volunteers. There is no requirement for more volunteers at this point, but a further call will be made if the whales re-strand. 

The dead whale carcasses will not be moved while there are live whales on the beach. Local iwi representatives Mairangi Reiher and Shane Graham have provided a karakia over the dead whales.

Update 7:30 am:

There are 100 live whales on the beach this morning. It is not known at this stage where the whales that were re-floated are now.

There are volunteers heading out to care for the whales on the beach, and keep them comfortable.

A refloat attempt will be made on the high tide around 11.30 am. The results of that attempt will be known by 2-3 pm this afternoon.

The work of volunteers is appreciated however no new volunteers are needed.

Project Jonah are co-ordinating the response - see their Facebook page for updates.

Contact

For media enquiries contact:

Trish Grant, DOC Communications Advisor
Phone: +64 3 546 3146 
Mobile: +64 27 556 1859
Email: tgrant@doc.govt.nz 

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