Over 400 whales have become stranded on the shores of  South Island in New Zealand, and several hundred have died, despite human intervention to help them. 

It is confirmed that 416 whales beached themselves at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay during the night. While volunteers wanted to make an effort to help them immediately, it was deemed too dangerous to do so in the dark as if the whale moves the wrong way, it could seriously injure a human. But by the time the sun rose and volunteers were able to finally get on the scene, at least 300 of the whales had passed away.

When the sun rose, volunteers were on hand to try and save the remaining whales and help them find their way back into the water. More than 500 people, in addition to conservation teams, attempted to keep them alive by placing wet blankets on the survivors as well as periodically pouring cool water over them.

This is the largest mass stranding since the 1980s.

Experts say that because whales are highly social, they often follow one another and their whole pod becomes beached together. They theorize that one whale will be beached and call out to the rest of the whales in his pod. The others will come to try to help, or simply look on, and then will become beached themselves. The cycle can continue until their entire group is on the shores clinging to life.

They also say that this particular coast line can be difficult for whales to navigate due to the long coastline and the fact that the beach slightly slopes down.

Many of the whales were “refloated” earlier this morning during high tide, but more than 90 of them came back to beach themselves again, presumably anxious to stay with loved ones.

Volunteer rescuer Peter Wiles stated:

“We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don’t really take directions, they go where they want to go. Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach.”

Volunteers and conservationists will attempt to refloat more whales on Saturday, though they are unsure if it will be successful.

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