A pod of 13 pilot whales has beached in Golden Bay, New Zealand, inciting volunteers to rush to the remote location to save them. The 20 volunteers are hoping to re-float the animals as the tide comes in.
"We plan to attempt to refloat the stranded whales in the incoming tide tonight," conservation ranger Gregg Knapp told AFP. "We are hoping we can get them afloat and further out to sea before dark when it would become unsafe for people to work in the sea trying to refloat the whales."
The incident is reminiscent of a mass stranding last December in Florida, during which about 51 pilot whales became stranded in shallow water in the Everglades and, despite immediate rescue operations, 11 of them were confirmed dead.
While it's unclear exactly why these strandings happen, they are not uncommon and often happen in the same areas. And because whales are social animals, they usually stick to their pods, and run aground in large groups.
We will continue to update this post as the story develops.
UPDATE: One of the stranded pilot whales has died. But authorities managed to float the whales in the high tide Tuesday night, but couldn't get them together as a pod, according to NZ Newswire.
The whales were spread out over 100 meters [330 feet], but bringing them together would allow them to communicate and swim out together, he said. But he remained hopeful the whales, which were floating, would get out to sea. "They could well swim off tonight and hopefully they will," he said.
UPDATE: Five of the whales have been confirmed dead, The Southland News reports. But officials with the New Zealand Department of Conservation say they are remaining "optimistic" and have decided to try to herd the animals out with a boat.
"We're hoping, with a boat, we can encourage them to go out," said DOC conservation services manager, John Mason. "Sometimes they're responsive to it, sometimes they're not."