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Whales dead in New Zealand beaching

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WELLINGTON: More than 400 whales were stranded on a New Zealand beach yesterday, with most of them dying quickly as frustrated volunteers raced to save the surviving ones.

It was one of the largest mass beachings recorded in New Zealand, where strandings are relatively common, the Department of Conservation said.

Its regional manager, Mr Andrew Lamason, said 416 pilot whales swam ashore at Farewell Spit in the Golden Bay region, which is located on the northern tip of South Island.

About 70 per cent had perished by the time wildlife officers reached the remote location, and about 500 volunteers pitched in to get the remaining whales offshore.

Mr Lamason conceded that the outlook was gloomy and by late afternoon, the majority of the 100-plus whales that were refloated at high tide had swam back ashore.

"With that number dead, you have to assume that the rest are in reasonably poor nick as well," he told Radio New Zealand.

"So we are sort of preparing ourselves for a pretty traumatic period ahead."

The cause of the beaching was unknown, though officials said the shallow bay and jutting hook shape of Farewell Spit could have trapped the pilot whales.

Department spokesman Herb Christophers said there were so many whale carcasses that it was difficult for the volunteers to get the living animals back into the water.

"The dead ones that are floating around out there are obstructing their course out to sea," he told AFP.

Volunteers will again attempt to refloat any surviving whales today. - AFP

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