Published: Thu, February 16, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

No fresh whale strandings seen in New Zealand

No fresh whale strandings seen in New Zealand

A stretch of sand in New Zealand was the scene of both tragedy and triumph this weekend as rescuers raced to save hundreds of stranded pilot whales after 300 others died in one of the country's largest beaching events.

"These things explode from the stomach, and if you're standing right there, it's not very nice getting a "gut bomb" on your face," operations manager at the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), Mike Ogle, told Stuff NZ.

Many volunteers gathered on the shoreline broke down in tears on hearing the latest strandings appeared to be over.

Since Thursday night, hundreds of the oceanic mammals were washing up at Golden Bay near the northwest tip of the South Island.

By Monday, Farewell Spit was clear of stranded whales, though officials were still monitoring a pod swimming fairly close to shore, the Department of Conservation said.

"It's not known at this time where the whales are but DOC staff and Project Jonah remain ready to respond if a report comes in of whales stranding", she said. More than 500 people worked for days to help save as numerous stranded whales as they could. The problem with towing them out to sea or leaving them is that they could become gaseous and buoyant, and end up causing problems by floating into populated bays.

Described as like "popping balloons", the decompression process involves uses different types of knives and special, 2-metre-long (6.5-foot) hypodermic needle to puncture and deflate the carcasses.

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They beached themselves about 3km from the Friday stranding.

The carcasses will then be moved inland to decompose in the dunes.

On Thursday, the New Zealand Department of Conservation discovered more than 400 whales stranded on the South Island's Farewell Spit, more than half of them already dead.

The agency is now trying to figure out what to do with the carcasses of the dead whales. Hundreds of volunteers spent days pouring water over the beached whales to try and keep them cool, while waiting to catch high tides to carry them out to sea again.

Previous research has pointed to the Moon's gravitational influence as potentially messing with these animals' ability to navigate the open oceans.

There are several hypotheses for the mass strandings.

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