FAREWELL SPIT (New Zealand) • Whale rescuers were cautiously optimistic yesterday that the current wave of mass beachings in New Zealand was over, after hundreds of the creatures died after being stranded ashore.
The crisis began early last Friday when a pod of 416 whales was found stranded on the 26km Farewell Spit, with hundreds more following them over the weekend.
The shallow, sweeping spit is a regular scene of mass strandings.
As low tide approached early yesterday evening, around 300 pilot whales headed out of Golden Bay in the north-west of the South Island and swam towards the deep-water safety of Cook Strait.
"It's good news. The pod is swimming well away," Department of Conservation regional conservation manager Andrew Lamason told news agency Agence France-Presse.
The news came as a relief for the hundreds of volunteers, who had spent three days comforting the stranded animals and keeping them cool while waiting to refloat them on the high tide.
Late Saturday afternoon, when rescuers believed the situation to be under control, about 240 whales moved around a small flotilla of boats and a human chain of rescuers standing in the water trying to herd them away.
They beached themselves about 3km from the Friday stranding.
By yesterday morning, however, most managed to refloat themselves.