Warning issued over 100s of 'exploding whales' on NZ beach

Farewell Spit remains free from beached whales with no new strandings.

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.

"It's not known at this time where the whales are, but DOC staff and Project Jonah remain ready to respond if a report comes in of whales stranding", the department said.

All told, almost 700 whales washed up on Farewell Spit in what is now the third-largest whale stranding since data collection began in the 1800s, and the largest ever since 1985, the Department of Conservation said.

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.

The department's regional conservation manager Andrew Lamason said the immediate risk was that the rotting bodies would blow up as they filled with gas.

"It's not going to be a fun job".

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It's not clear why the whales keep arriving on the spit next to Golden Bay. Most of the 100 whales who were floated reportedly returned to the shore.

Meanwhile, another pod of about 200 pilot whales were spotted around Taupata Point near Farewell Spit and officials feared another stranding Monday. It has a long protruding coastline and gently sloping beaches that make it hard for whales to swim away once they get close.

Pilot whales are not listed as endangered, but little is known about their population in New Zealand waters.

There are different theories as to why whales strand themselves, from chasing prey too far inshore to trying to protect a sick member of the group or escaping a predator.

Farewell Spit is a 26-kilometre (16 mile) hook of sand that protrudes out into the sea and has been described as a ideal whale trap. "They've been singing songs to them, giving them specific names, treating them as kindred spirits".

Whale strandings are common in New Zealand and this is its third-biggest in recorded history. It has been the site of previous mass whale beachings.

About 1000 whales beached themselves on the Chatham Islands in 1918 and 450 near Auckland in 1985. Almost 700 whales were stranded on Farewell Spit along New Zealand's South Island.

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