Hundreds of whales dead after mass stranding in New Zealand

New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, with about 300 dolphins and whales ending up on beaches every year, according to Project Jonah.

Numerous more than 100 whales refloated off the South Island's Farewell Spit today at high tide have become stranded again, reports Radio New Zealand.

Andrew Lamason, Department of Conservation operations manager for Golden Bay, told The Guardian it was common for whales involved in a mass stranding to re-beach themselves because they are very social animals who like to stay in close proximity to their pod.

Golden Bay, and Farewell Spit in particular, has been the site of many whale strandings, possibly because its long protruding coastline and gently sloping beaches that somehow scramble the whales' sonar navigation, or simply because it is a shallow bay, which makes it hard for the whales to swim out once they are in it.

Lamason added that volunteers were warned by the conservation department about the presence of stingrays and sharks in the sea after a pilot whale that was washed ashore seemed to have bite marks of a shark. "It's just so unbelievably sad to see all these bodies; so many lives gone and so many that might not survive".

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Volunteers in boats were also attempting to push back a new pod of about 200 whales that had arrived in the area as authorities feared they may also beach themselves, he said.

The whales beached at low tide, three kilometres from where the first group had died Friday.

"All we know is it keeps happening".

German visitor Lea Stubbe makes an emotional farewell to the pilot whale she cared for. As of now, volunteers are still trying to save the few remaining whales, keeping them as healthy as possible until Saturday afternoon, when the tide is high again.

Officials have also been looking into how best to dispose of the whale carcasses.

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While strandings have occurred before at Farewell Spit, the incident has shocked locals due to its magnitude. The largest whale beaching incident reported from the country was almost a century ago - back in 1918 when more than 1,000 Pilot whales were beached on the Chatham Islands.

On Thursday, more than 400 pilot whales were discovered at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.

Located on the remote beach at tip of the South Island, around 300 were already dead. The reasons for whale strandings are still unclear, but it is thought that a combination of factors are contributing to this, with old, sick and injured whales being particularly vulnerable.

The second largest was in Auckland in 1985, when 450 ended up on a beach.

This was the third worst whale stranding in New Zealand.

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