Hundreds of long-finned pilot whales are stranded at Farewell Spit, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches, at sunrise on Friday, 10 February 2017. Photo: Jane Ussher / ThisNZLife

By Katie Mettler
10 February 2017

(The Washington Post) – The writer, photographer and tour guide gathered at a quarter past six Friday morning, their destination Farewell Spit.

The dainty, fingerlike peninsula cups the northern edge of shallow Golden Bay, one of New Zealand’s most picturesque natural scenes and a premiere place to witness the sun’s rise.

It was still dark when the trio boarded a bus and set out across the sand, with magazine editor Cheree Morrison and photographer Jane Ussher hoping to capture the beach’s raw wake-up call in words and images.

Then their guide slowed the bus and gestured outside. “Your story,” he said, “is about to change.”

Ussher quickly realized the power of the scene before them and started snapping pictures.

Morrison sat on the bus and wept.

“It was just red and pink skies and just whales as far as you could see,” Morrison said. “It was really haunting.” [more]

‘It was really haunting’: 416 beached whales propel New Zealanders into frenzied rescue mission

Some of the hundreds of stranded pilot whales marked with an ‘X’ to indicate they have died after one of the country’s largest recorded mass whale strandings, in Golden Bay, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, 10 February 2017. Photo: Anthony Phelps / Reuters

10 February 2017 (Associated Press) – It was the sound of soft sighs and cries in the half-light that first struck Cheree Morrison, and then as the dawn broke she began to see the extent of the carnage — more than 400 whales had swum aground along a remote New Zealand beach.

About 275 of the pilot whales were already dead when Morrison and two colleagues found them Friday on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. 

Within hours, hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers were racing to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation's history. 

Morrison, a magazine writer and editor, stumbled on the whales after taking a pre-dawn trip with a photographer and a guide to capture the red glow of the sunrise. 

“You could hear the sounds of splashing, of blowholes being cleared, of sighing,” she said. “The young ones were the worst. Crying is the only way to describe it.” 

The whale carcasses were strewn three or four deep in places for hundreds of yards, often rolled over on the sand with their tail fins still aloft. 

Morrison's group alerted authorities, and volunteers soon began arriving in wetsuits and carrying buckets. Dressed in her jeans and sandshoes, Morrison waded into the water and did what she could to try to maneuver the surviving whales upright so they could breathe more easily. 

“I walked away crying my eyes out,” she said. “We knew there were limited things we could do.” 

Volunteer rescue group Project Jonah said a total of 416 whales had stranded. When high tide came, volunteers managed to refloat about 50 of the surviving whales while the other 80 or 90 remained beached. 

The volunteers then formed a human chain in the water to try to stop the creatures from swimming back and stranding themselves again. It will likely take a day or so to determine how successful their efforts have been. [more]

400 whales stranded on remote New Zealand beach; volunteers launch rescue effort

10 February 2017 (The Watchers) – 416 pilot whales were found stranded at Farewell Spit in New Zealand's Golden Bay late Thursday, February 9, 2017. This is the third-largest measured whale stranding event in New Zealand since the 1800's and the largest since 1918.

The Department of Conservation Golden Bay operations manager Andrew Lamason said an estimated 70% of the whales had died overnight. More than 100 had been refloated around high tide on Friday morning, but the whales began re-stranding before noon.

The refloat had been partially successful with about 50 whales out swimming in the bay, but the remaining 80 whales had re-stranded on the beach. […]

The latest event is the third-largest measured whale stranding event since the 1800's and the largest since 1918 when 1 000 pilot whales stranded on the Chatham Islands.

In 1985, about 450 whales stranded in Auckland. [more]

Third-largest whale stranding event in New Zealand



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