Nearly 200 pilot whales stranded themselves on New Zealand's South Island today, with hordes of rescuers rushing to the remote area in a bid to guide them back to sea. Two dozen of the 198 whales have already died despite efforts to save the creatures, which were found stranded on Farewell Spit, a famous spot for whale beachings, a Department of Conservation spokesman says. About 80 conservation workers and volunteers were trying to refloat the whales as high tide rolled in, he notes. But with such a vast number of animals stranded, workers are bracing for days of arduous work to move the whales back into the water.
And even if the whales were refloated, that's no guarantee they'll survive, the spokesman says. "We've had plenty times in the past where the pods have gone out to sea and turned around and come back again," he says. "We're preparing for a big few days." Experts describe Farewell Spit, located on the northwest corner of South Island, as a whale trap due to the way its shallow waters seem to confuse whales and diminish their ability to navigate. After a mass stranding there in 2012, conservation authorities ended up shooting 33 whales after they beached themselves a third time. (Read more New Zealand stories.)