Published: Thu, February 16, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jose Becker

Whales beached in New Zealand's Golden Bay at risk of 'exploding'

It is not clear why the whales continue to arrive on the beach.

Another 200 were found alive on a nearby beach on Saturday morning, with the majority making their own way back to sea at hightide that night.

According to the BBC, the environmental group Project Johan has a plane flying over the bay to keep track of the movements of the whales that have been successfully refloated.

"People seem to have an emotional attachment to marine mammals", Herb Christophers, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation, told The Associated Press.

But things are just getting started for the clean-up crew, because hundreds of carcasses are now strewn across Farewell Spit beach, and the public has been banned due to fears of spontaneous whale explosions caused by gas build-up.

'The area is now closed to the public because of the risk from whales exploding, ' the conservation department said in a statement.

Another idea was to build a fence around the carcasses to prevent them from being swept away and then letting them biodegrade on the shore.

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"It's not going to be a fun job". Sometimes described as a whale trap, the spit's long coastline and gently sloping beaches seem to make it hard for whales to navigate away once they get close. All but two have since rejoined their pod of some 200 whales swimming close to the shore.

A pod of 17 whales refloated at Farewell Spit this morning now appear headed towards the safety of Cook Strait.

Experts have different theories as to why whales beach themselves, from chasing prey too far inshore to trying to protect a sick member of the group.

Pilot whales are not listed as endangered, but little is known about their population in New Zealand waters. "Hopefully that makes them a lot less buoyant and less likely to drift off".

Farewell Spit has been described as a whale trap.

No one knows exactly why mass beachings occur, but scientists speculate that some cetaceans' means of communication, echolocation, may not work as well near land. "They've been singing songs to them, giving them specific names, treating them as kindred spirits".

Conservation workers in New Zealand have been "popping" pilot whales "like balloons" to stop their carcasses exploding. In 1985, about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

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