Crowds rush to save whales stranded on New Zealand beach

Marine conservation group Project Jonah said seven whales that stranded at Mataragi Spit are being looked after by as many as 1,000 people.
Marine conservation group Project Jonah said seven whales that stranded at Mataragi Spit are being looked after by as many as 1,000 people.PHOTO: PROJECTJONAH/TWITTER

WELLINGTON (AFP) - About 1,000 people rushed to a New Zealand beach Saturday (Jan 4) to try to save a pod of whales that stranded overnight, overwhelming conservation workers who were appealing for specialist assistance.

Three of the short-finned pilot whales had died and an attempt to refloat the surviving seven was to be made on the mid-afternoon high tide at the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island.

Seven of the whales were later refloated during the afternoon high tide and shepherded to deeper waters by several boats. 

“Seven surviving (short-finned) pilot whales have been shepherded out of Matarangi Harbour. Our staff are burying four dead whales,” the department of conservation tweeted.

"This is an overwhelming response, and we ask that, unless you are a trained medic, you do not visit the stranding."

Short-finned pilot whales are closely related to the long-finned pilot whales that are regularly involved in mass strandings in New Zealand waters.

Two years ago, more than 330 pilot whales died in two strandings at Farewell Spit at the top of New Zealand's South Island.