By David Barber
Wellington (dpa) – About 60 pilot whales were reported to have died Thursday after a mass stranding on a New Zealand beach as conservationists and volunteers struggled to save 24 survivors.
The actual toll was still unknown as many were washed back out to sea after dying on the beach at remote Spirits Bay at the top of the North Island following Wednesday’s stranding.
Heavy lifting gear was brought in as more than 100 volunteers, including members of a local Maori tribe, braved heavy seas and winds gusting to 100 kilometres an hour to get the survivors into a lagoon, where they were to spend a second night.
“They really seem to know that people are looking after them and that they are in safe hands,” Department of Conservation spokeswoman Sue Campbell told Radio New Zealand.
“And they really respond and communicate to people touching them, talking to them, just being near them and because they’re social animals – being mammals – that seems to be a relatively natural response to them.”
Campbell said it was still hoped that they could be loaded onto trucks on Friday and moved 50 kilometres by road to a calmer beach for a bid to refloat them.