More than 70 pilot whales became stranded on a remote New Zealand beach yesterday, prompting a major rescue effort from residents, oil refinery workers and government officials who battled throughout the day to refloat them. By the early afternoon, 40 whales had been pushed back into the ocean but rescuers were unable to save a further 38 who died on the beach.
The pod of pilot whales became stranded on Ruakaka Beach, a gently sloping sandy beach on New Zealand's North Island which is typical of the sort of shoreline that can ensnare groups of whales. Rescuers were forced to kill one whale calf on the beach, fearing its distress signals were calling the rest of the pod back to the beach. Pilot whales become stranded for a number of reasons but usually end up on beaches if the pod's lead whale makes a navigational error. As night fell yesterday, volunteers kept guard in case the pod returned.