Whale lovers in New Zealand finally got some good news on Sunday after more than 200 stranded whales managed to refloat themselves overnight and swim away, while volunteers managed to save another 17 whales at high tide, reports the AP. More than 650 pilot whales had beached themselves along Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island in two separate mass strandings over recent days. About 350 whales have died, including 20 that were euthanized. Another 100 have been refloated by volunteers and more than 200 have swum away unassisted. Hundreds of volunteers from farmers to tourists have spent days at the beach dousing the whales with buckets of water to keep them cool and trying to refloat them. "People seem to have an emotional attachment to marine mammals," said Department of Conservation spokesman Herb Christophers. "They've been singing songs to them, giving them specific names, treating them as kindred spirits."
Christophers said everyone is hoping the strandings are finally over. The first group of more than 400 beached whales was found early Friday, with many already dead. "You could hear the sounds of splashing, of blowholes being cleared, of sighing," said Cheree Morrison, who first stumbled upon the whales. "The young ones were the worst. Crying is the only way to describe it." Volunteers managed to refloat the surviving whales on Saturday, only to hear of a second mass stranding hours later. In recent days, volunteers formed human chains in the water to stop the creatures from beaching again, despite being warned that one whale had marks that looked like a shark bite. Officials will soon need to turn to the grim task of disposing of hundreds of carcasses. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and Friday's event was the nation's third-biggest in recorded history. (Read more beached whale stories.)