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Rescuers race the tide to save 15 whales

Friday 20 Aug 2010 5:50 p.m.

By Adam Ray

Department of Conservation staff and volunteers are engaged in a race against the tide to try to save up to 15 pilot whales, after a mass stranding on a Far North beach.

The survivors are from a pod of nearly 60 that beached sometime during the night, at Karikari beach, near Kaitaia.

The rescue effort is at a crucial stage.

High tide was 90 minutes ago, and as the tide recedes it's getting harder to maneuver the whales back into the water.

It’s a distressing sight, young and old being washed by the waves on one of Northland's most beautiful beaches.

Watch extended video from the whale rescue effort at Karikari beach

Forty people have spent the day helping the survivors, pushing them back out to sea, in some cases holding them above the waves and wrapping others to keep them wet.

“So sad…the first thing I saw when I came to the beach was a dead bay pilot whale just tragic,” says rescuer Dr Ingrid Visser.

Rescuers were called this morning after a member of the public spotted the whales. The pod probably beached about 3am, many were dead before help arrived and others have died since.

“This is a hot spot for stranding, especially pilot whales, it's a shallow beach so they could very well have got confused and once one or two of them start coming in they don't want to leave each other and you end up getting a situation like this,” says Patrick Whaley, of DOC.

The weather is helping and hurting the rescue, rain is keeping the survivors wet but strong wind is whipping up waves so volunteers moved some of whales closer to shore to stop them drowning.

“Most of them are looking okay they have superficial wounds from being rolled in surf but seem to be okay,” says Ms Visser.

High tide at 4:30pm this afternoon gave the rescuers their best chance to refloat the whales, but they weigh up to a tonne and a half and it takes up to five people to turn each animal toward the sea.

Its is the sixth stranding of pilot whales since Christmas, with so many beachings volunteers are offered free training on how to save them.

“For as long as we can we'll stay here just to comfort them,” says one of rescuers, Jesse Jones.

With darkness is falling, and the tide dropping, it's getting harder for the rescuers to save the last of the pod.

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