WELLINGTON A group of 28 pilot whales successfully relocated to an infamous New Zealand beach where more than a dozen marine mammals died this week, cheerful rescuers said Wednesday.
The long-feathered pilot whales, which were once trapped before, appear to have finally come out to sea, said animal rescue charity Project Jonah.
“Live whales are not trapped overnight, so it looks like a success now. We are using the phrase ‘cautiously optimistic’, “said charity general manager Daren Grover.
The whales were part of a podium of about 50 that were found Monday at Farewell Spit, about 90 miles (55 miles) north of the resort town of South Nelson Island.
About 40 whales were released into the sea on Monday evening but swam back ashore the next morning, with about 60 volunteers relocating the 28 survivors back into the water for the second time.
“Beaches have been checked all the way along Farewell Spit and there is no sign of live whales … So far, so good,” Grover said.
He said the dead whales would be moved to a beach area not used by the public, where the bodies would receive a blessing from the local Maori iwi (tribe).
The Farewell Spit, a 26-mile-long sandstorm that has hit the sea, has been the scene of at least 10 pilot whale blockages in the last 15 years.
The most recent was in February 2017, when nearly 700 of the mammals were beach, resulting in 250 deaths.
Scientists are unclear why the beach is so deadly. One theory is that saliva creates a shallow sea floor in the bay that interferes with whale sonal navigation systems.
Pilot whales, the most common whale species in New Zealand waters, are particularly susceptible to massive blockages.
Whales, which grow up to six meters (20 feet) long, are regularly found on the beach in large numbers.
They were involved in New Zealand’s largest recorded blockade of the Chatham Islands in 1918, when a shore of 1,000 swam ashore.
The remote islands, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of South Island, were the scene of another incident last November when nearly 100 whales died.
It is thought that very sociable animals can follow a sick leader on the shore, panic from predators or get stressed in extreme weather.
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