There are currently devastating scenes at Farewell Spit in New Zealand as over 400 pilot whales have beached themselves.
It is the worst recorded beaching in the South Island’s history, and hundreds of locals and conservation officers have been working hard since early Friday morning to save the whales that are still alive.
New Zealand marine mammal charity Project Jonah which is leading efforts to save the whales said a total of 416 whales were stranded.
300 of the total whales died overnight on Thursday evening. Although the conservation department said it had received a report about a possible stranding that night, the New Zealand Herald reported that it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue in the dark and so they had to wait till morning.
Scientists do not know exactly why whales beach themselves, however Project Jonah have outlined a number of suspected causes.
Whales may beach themselves if they are old, sick or in generally poor health. A shortage of food can also result in malnourished whales as they may ingest large amounts of litter or plastic.
Alternatively, the whale might simply have tried to find a safe location to give birth to their young and stranded themselves as a result of coming too close to the shore.
Furthermore, injuries can cause stranding and navigational errors – from avoiding predators unfamiliar costal configurations – can lead to beaching. Experts say that incidents like this tend to occur at Farewell Spit due to the shallow waters confusing the whales.
Danny Glover, one of the rescuers at the site, told the BBC it was known as a “whale trap”, with its incredible tidal range where the tide may come in as far as 5km (3miles) but with only a 3-metre drop in depth.
This might come as shocking news to some, however New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world. On average, about 300 dolphins and whales strand each year and this is usually just one animal at a time.
The conservation department were not expecting a beaching of this scale, yet they are working hard to keep the whales “cool, calm and comfortable”.
A few whales have been floated back into the water already, although some of them have tried to swim back to shore. To avoid this happening, the volunteers have formed a human chain to herd them out to deeper waters.
“We managed to float quite a few whales off and there were an awful lot of dead ones in the shallows so it was really, really sad.”
“One of the nicest things was we managed to float off a couple [of whales] and they had babies and the babies were following,” said volunteer Ana Wiles.
We will keep this article updated as and when new information is released.
To view video footage, visit the BBC.