400 whales stranded on New Zealand beach

About 50 of the whales swam out, while 80 to 90 re-stranded on the beach.

New Zealand volunteers formed a human chain in the water at a remote beach on Friday as they tried to save about 100 whales after more than 400 of the creatures beached themselves in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation's history.

The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand.

He said 20 whales had been humanely killed by conservation workers as they were in a poor condition.

The Department of Conservation noted that volunteers are helping to keep the stranded whales comfortable until dark, but that the DOC doesn't work with stranded whales after sundown, citing safety concerns that are hard to manage after dark: "Whales can become agitated when stressed and can injure or even kill a human with a small flick of a whale fin or tail".

Sometimes when one whale is beached, it will send out a distress signal attracting other members of its pod, who then also get stranded by a receding tide.

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And Farewell Spit is located on the north end of Golden Bay, a known hotspot for pilot whale strandings.

Officials are now going to have to undertake the grim task of disposing of the whales.

It was New Zealand's largest known whale stranding since 1985, when 450 were stranded in Auckland, and the third largest on record.

The conservation department said it had received a report about a possible stranding on Thursday night, but did not launch the rescue operation until Friday morning as it was too risky to attempt a rescue in the dark, reported the New Zealand Herald.

Hoping to save more whales at the next high tide on Friday evening, rescuers took turns pouring water over the beached whales to try and keep them cool, while school children sang to soothe the distressed beasts.

Even for a country with the most whale strandings in the world, the scale of the latest event "was a shock", said Darren Grover manager of marine environmental organisation Project Jonah.

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