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Nearly 200 Whales Stranded on New Zealand Beach

Feb 13, 2015 02:12 PM EST
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Nearly 200 whales became stranded on a beach in New Zealand on Friday, and time is running out as rescuers try to save them.

There is a reason the beach where they were found, Farewell Spit, Golden Bay, is nicknamed a "deathtrap" for marine animals. Out of the 198 pilot whales that are beached, at least 24 of them have died thus far, according to the Department of Conservation (DOC). Once they're stranded, whales can suffer from dehydration and sunburn.

Volunteer rescuers are scrambling to try to refloat these massive mammals because if they can't succeed today, then they have to wait 24 hours for another high tide, and who knows how many more casualties there will be by then.

"Because there's just so many whales, there are a couple of spots where a lot would gather together and that's kind of problematic from the aspect that you can't get in there, it's just too dangerous," Mike Ogle, a local conservation ranger, told BBC News.

This is not the first time whale strandings have occurred on Farewell Spit beach, located at the northern tip of the South Island, the Agence France-Presse says. In the last decade alone there have been at least eight mass pilot whale strandings, though this latest incident is one of the largest. Even in the span of just a week in January last year there were two such strandings.

The area's shallow waters appear to confuse whales and hinder their ability to navigate. Though, researchers are confused as to how they manage to strand themselves in such large groups. They suspect that whales in the pod try to help sick or disorientated family members that are stranded.

Unfortunately, even if rescuers are able to refloat the whales, there's still no guarantee that they will survive.

"We've had plenty times in the past where the pods have gone out to sea and turned around and come back again," the DOC's Andrew Lamason told BBC. "We're preparing for a big few days."

Pilot whales are the most common species of whale in New Zealand's waters, and can grow to about 20 feet (6 meters) long.

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