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NZ volunteers refloat remaining 17 whales

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/02/2017

Volunteers have refloated the remaining 17 pilot whales stranded on a new Zealand beach and are using boats to try to direct them towards a larger pod.

The whales had been the only animals left at Farewell Spit on the northern tip of the South Island on Sunday morning after a series of mass strandings during the past few days led to the deaths of hundreds of the animals.

The whales are headed in the direction of a large pod milling in Golden Bay but authorities are concerned they may turn back in, the Department of Conservation's Herb Christophers says.

"We have boats on the water trying to manage their egress from the sandy shore," he said.

"It is looking hopeful, but they may yet come back in so we are trying to avoid that."

The sight has cheered volunteers engaged in a huge relief effort ever since the environmental disaster began on Thursday night when 416 whales stranded, with 75 per cent found dead on Friday morning.

The army of volunteers had battled to keep the surviving whales alive and participated in bids to refloat them, forming human chains to keep the whales offshore where there was a second pod.

Despite these efforts, hundreds of dead whales lie at the stranding site with Massey University pathologists carrying out necropsies to try to determine the cause of death.

This week's event is the third-largest recorded stranding 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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