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NZ rescuers stop new whale pod beaching

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/02/2017
Pilots whales that stranded themselves in the Farewell Spit in 2011. © AP Photo Pilots whales that stranded themselves in the Farewell Spit in 2011.

About 100 whales that survived one of New Zealand's biggest beachings have been successfully refloated, though there were fears a second pod with 200 animals might run aground in the same area.

Rescuers linked hands in the sea on Saturday morning to block the refloated whales from returning to the beach at Farewell Spit, a witness said.

Volunteers in boats were also attempting to push back a new pod of about 200 whales that had arrived in the area as authorities feared they might also beach themselves, he said.

The rescue effort comes after 416 pilot whales were beached on Farewell Spit in the South Island overnight on Thursday, with 300 dying.

Volunteers refloated about 100 whales on Friday before 50 again became beached later in the day, according to Department of Conservation community ranger Kath Inwood.

By Saturday, 100 were beached. The success of Saturday's rescue efforts on the high tide would become clearer by mid-afternoon, Ms Inwood said.

Mass beachings are not uncommon at Farewell Spit, where it is believed the gently shifting sandy beaches may not be picked up by whales' echolocation.

This week's event is the third-largest recorded in New Zealand since data started being collected in the 1800s.

About 1000 whales beached themselves on the Chatham Islands in 1918 and 450 in Auckland in 1985.

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