Published: Thu, February 16, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

More than 200 whales swim away after New Zealand stranding


Around 200 whales which were stranded on New Zealand's Farewell Spit during the weekend have been able to float themselves, but they have not left the area and conservation officials fear that they could get stuck on the coastline again.

'The area is now closed to the public because of the risk from whales exploding, ' the conservation department said in a statement.

"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," DOC operations manager Mike Ogle told Fairfax Media.

The warning follows good news today, where a number of whales were successfully refloated - with the help of authorities and members of the public - after they beached themselves this morning.

And as hard as shifting hundreds of massive, rapidly decomposing carcasses sounds, that's only the half of it, because whales are known to explode after death, thanks to the gas that gets trapped in their stomachs like a giant balloon.

In good news for volunteers who worked to save almost 700 pilot whales that swam ashore, the Department of Conservation said a pod of about 240 were seen heading out to open sea late Sunday.

The first group of more than 400 beached whales was found early Friday, with many of them already dead. It was "like popping balloons", a DOC spokesperson told local radio. More than 500 people worked for days to help save as numerous stranded whales as they could.

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The surviving whales were last seen swimming six kilometres (four miles) offshore on Sunday evening, according to DOC.

Farewell Spit, a sliver of sand that arches like a hook into the Tasman Sea, has been the site of previous mass strandings. In February 2015, about 190 whales were stranded on the beach there. "Hopefully that makes them a lot less buoyant and less likely to drift off".

The series of mass strandings are the largest on the New Zealand mainland since records began.

Volunteers at Farewell Spit worked to keep the stranded whales wet.

"People seem to have an emotional attachment to marine mammals", Department of Conservation spokesman Herb Christophers told The Associated Press.

The DOC said they plan to move the dead whales with a digger further up Farewell Spit to the area of the nature reserve that is not open to the public. In 1985, about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

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