NZ rescuers struggle to save beached whales

Rescuers struggled to save scores of pilot whales after 80 beached themselves in New Zealand on Friday. By evening, nine had died and others were not expected to last the night, conservation officials said.

An initial group of 30 whales had beached at Golden Bay, near the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, and more among their pod were coming in to shore when rescuers arrived. The rescuers managed to turn away four whales, but another 50 hit the beach, Conservation Department spokeswoman Trish Grant said.

More than 100 rescuers, including New Zealand and overseas tourists, tried to keep the whales cool by dousing them with sea water during the late afternoon and evening on Friday.

Nine died and grave fears were held for many of the others because unfavorable tides meant there was no hope of returning them to the sea before Saturday, Grant said.

"It's likely that more will die overnight because stranding is quite an ordeal for them — it's stressful," Grant said. "But also, some just get drowned, they just can't get into an upright position as the water comes and they can't breathe."

Staying by the whales in the dark was too dangerous and rescuers would not likely be called in until the morning, she said.

"We'd be optimistic that there's surviving whales tomorrow that we can refloat," she said.

Whale strandings are commonplace in New Zealand. Last month 24 pilot whales died after stranding in the North Island. In December 2009, more than 120 whales died in two separate beachings near Golden Bay and on the east coast of North Island.