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Spit full of exploding whales menaces sunbathers  

February 14, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Beachgoers and sunbathers have been warned to stay well clear of a stretch of sand where hundreds of whale carcasses are at risk of exploding.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation issued the warning yesterday in the wake of a mass whale stranding at Farewell Spit, a 26-kilometre sandbar extending in an arc off the northwest tip of the South Island.

The stranding at Farewell Spit is being described as New Zealand’s biggest stranding since records began in the 1800s.

Earthmoving equipment will be deployed to shift dead whales off the shore and move them further up Farewell Spit to an area of nature reserve and dunes closed to the public.

Refloating whales at Farewell Spit. NZ Department of Conservation photo

An area will be cordoned off during the operation to lessen the risk of exploding carcasses injuring beachgoers or spectators, as warmer weather hastens decomposition.

Over the past few days, hundreds of volunteers have braved challenging conditions to help refloat stranded whales. In many cases they have succeeded and whales have been saved.

Nearly 700 pilot whales have become stranded on, or near, Farewell Spit (which is a notorious whale graveyard) since last Thursday. Of those, more than 300 have died, Radio New Zealand reported.

Volunteers had to cope with cold winds, stingrays and the arrival of sharks attracted to decomposing carcasses on the tidal flats.

Mark Rigby of Project Jonah New Zealand, an organisation dedicated to caring for whales, dolphins and seals, told Radio NZ that whales were social creatures.

“Scientists believe that the reason we get mass strandings is because whales will respond to distress signals and group together, and strand together,” he said.

One local couple have invented a whale-lifting machine, which was successfully deployed at the weekend.

Written by Peter Needham in Ngauranga, New Zealand

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