As new aerial footage shows the overwhelming scale of NZ's third-largest whale stranding, rescuers warn the coming hours will be critical.
Mass whale stranding New Zealand
© Martin De Ruyter/Fairfax NZ
The view from the air shows the overwhelming scale of the stranding.
Experts and an army of volunteers spent Friday morning fighting to keep surviving whales alive after about 416 of them beached themselves at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. Department of Conservation Golden Bay operations manager Andrew Lamason said latest reports were that an estimated 70 per cent of the whales had died overnight.

Rescuers managed to refloat the survivors on Friday morning, but now whales have begun re-stranding again.

A Project Jonah worker said they would be at the scene with buckets and volunteers all afternoon.

Many of the whales were upright and trying to swim and thrashing around. This was a good sign, but as the tide goes out volunteers needed to try and keep the whales upright rather than on their sides.

The next high tide is about 11.30pm and volunteers would most likely be back tomorrow at this stage.

Early in the morning, the focus turned to keeping the remaining whales alive until high tide at 10.30am.

By 11am, Golden Bay operations manager Andrew Lamason said they'd successfully refloated the surviving whales, but at that stage there were concerns they might restrand.

"What they're doing is milling around so we won't know until mid-afternoon whether we're going to have a restranding or not," Lamason said.


"At the moment they're in the water and there is a line of people there just trying to get themselves between the whales and the beach."

"We've done this before though and we do have a horrible feeling they'll come back onto the beach," he said earlier.

Lamason said plenty of volunteers had turned up with good attitudes and were well equipped with wetsuits.
Stranded Whales
© NINA HINDMARSH/FAIRFAX NZ
The whales were stranded about one kilometre from the base, on the inside of Farewell Spit.
"It's cold, we've had reports of people being very cold so that's a bit of an issue but there has been a really good response. Last I heard there were probably more cars in the carpark than whales on the beach."

Lamason had said they would know by 2 or 3pm if they would have to deal with a restranding.

Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover gave a briefing to dozens of volunteers in the carpark at Farewell Spit.
Farewell Spit Stranding
© NINA HINDMARSH/FAIRFAX NZ
More than 400 pilot whales have stranded at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
Grover warned volunteers not to touch the whales' teeth or tails. He also said it was possible the whales had died from an infection and advised people not to breathe in anything expelled from the whales' blowholes.

'IT'S A BIG ONE'

This was the third-largest stranding on record. A thousand whales stranded on the Chathams in 1918.

The whales were stranded about one kilometre from the base, on the inside of Farewell Spit.

An army of volunteers had come to Farewell Spit to help with the stranding.

Lamason said it was essential that rescuers had a wet suit and could look after themselves for the day with food and water. The hours following high tide would be critical, he said.
Stranded whales at Farewell Spit
© Nina Hindmarsh
Volunteers are trying to save the surviving whales.
Lamason said the whales were first spotted swimming close to shore by a DOC ranger in the area late last night. At first light this morning the stranding was confirmed.

"It's a big one," Lamason said.

He asked rubberneckers to stay away from the site.
Farewell Spit Whale stranding
© Nina Hindmarsh
This is the biggest stranding in recent times in New Zealand.
"We want to be in the business of saving whales, not people," Lamason said.

If rescuers could car pool that would also help because of the narrow access road to the Triangle Flat car park at the base of the spit.

Project Jonah is sending its medics and other volunteers to the site.

The long, curving spit is a prime site for whale strandings.

STRANDING IS ON AN 'OVERWHELMING' SCALE

The atmosphere at the scene is emotional and subdued. Volunteers tasked with trying to save the remaining whales are tackling the job with determination and urgency.


The whales were "thrashing around" and volunteers have to be really careful.

The whales are spread out over a huge distance about 300 metres out to sea and the scale of the stranding is overwhelming.

The Golden Bay community has responded to the plea for volunteers with hundreds turning up in cars and busloads to try and save the mammals

Volunteers were asked to work in groups to try and save the remaining whales, and as the tide came in they were trying to get the whale's blow hole and faces further under water until the tide came in.

At the base of the spit trucks and diggers are waiting to move in to help move and bury the dead animals.

Farewell Spit Eco Tours manager Paddy Gillooly, who was helping with the rescue, said conditions were working in their favour.

"Now that the tide has come around, the live ones are starting to move," Gillooly said.

"Everyone is working hard to refloat the whales."