January 26, 2012
Volunteers try to save pilot whales stranded at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. Photo: Virginia Woolf
The last 33 pilot whales from a pod of 99 that stranded on Farewell Spit in New Zealand's Golden Bay have had to be shot after washing back on to the beach.
Only 17 whales have survived the third mass stranding this summer.
The group of 33 whales - seen swimming to safety yesterday - were found back on the spit in extreme distress this morning and the decision was quickly made to shoot them, Department of Conservation spokesman Nigel Mountford told NZ Newswire.
They had restranded further along the spit and with gale force winds forecast it was believed they would not survive another tidal cycle.
"They have been through five tidal cycles and been refloated twice and they have shown no inclination to swim away," Mr Mountford said.
They were shot by a team of four experts this morning.
If they were left alone it was possible the weakened creatures would swim away and cause a stranding alert somewhere else on the country's coast.
The dead whales will be dragged up into the dunes where they will be left to decompose.
The whales first stranded near the base of the spit on Monday. Survivors were refloated twice before the decision was made not to try a third refloating.
"It's disappointing for the volunteers who put their heart and soul into it," Mr Mountford said.
However, many of the dozens of volunteers would have had unique experience getting up close to a mammal they would not normally see.
"There were a lot of overseas visitors. It was like a United Nations out there."
It's inevitable in any stranding that some of the pod would not survive, he said.
The good news was that 17 whales, which were apparently waiting for the rest of the pod, were last seen swimming towards open water.