New Zealand volunteers resurface 28 whales in rescue operation

In this photo provided by Project Jona, rescue teams are working on Monday, February 22, 2021 to rescue pilot whales washed up on the beach at the Fairwell Spit at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The Ministry of Conservation reported a pod of 49 long fin pilots. Whales were stranded on Fairwell Spit, a remote beach on the South Island, where many whales had previously stranded. (Project Jona via AP)

New Zealand volunteers were optimistic that they could save the 28 whales remaining from the mass stranded after a second resurface in two days on Tuesday.

A herd of 49 short-finned pilot whales was first discovered early Monday at Fairwell Spit, a remote beach on the South Island. After that, 21 whales died.

Volunteers were able to first resurface the whale at high tide on Monday evening. But one night, the whale ran aground again. So the volunteers resurfaced them on Tuesday.

Louisa Hawkes, a spokesman for the non-profit whale rescue group Project Jonah, said the whales moved deeper into the ocean than the first attempt, giving them more hope.

“They went far farther than yesterday,” she said. “We are cautiously optimistic that they will not come back.”

She said it’s fairly common for pilot whales to bend down once or twice before they swim away.

Up to 200 volunteers helped keep the whales healthy and calm while they were on the beach.

Under the guidance of Project Jona and the Nature Conservation Ranger, volunteers wet the whales with a bucket of water and erect the creatures to prevent them from exerting excessive pressure on the fins.

After resurfaced the whale, volunteers formed a human chain in the water, trying to stop the whale from returning to the shore and swimming.

On Tuesday, Hawks said he used an inflatable pontoon to transport a whale into the deep sea and called on his podmates to chase it. After the whale swam a little, she said the boat replaced humans and formed a barrier to the shore.

“It was a big community effort,” she said.

The stranded whale was first noticed by tour operators early Monday in the area that was formerly the site of mass stranded.

The long coastline and gently sloping beaches of the Fairwell Spit, sometimes referred to as whale traps, seem to make it difficult for whales to leave as they approach.

There are various theories as to why whales get stuck, such as chasing prey too much along the coast, trying to protect sick members of the group, or escaping predators.

Four years ago, more than 650 pilot whales ran into the Fairwell Spit on two separate grounds. More than 350 people have died and about 300 have been saved.

Pilot whales are relatively small, but can grow to over 6 meters (20 feet).

Dozens of whales stranded in the infamous New Zealand Bay

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New Zealand volunteers resurface 28 whales in rescue operation

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