40+ Beached Whales Freed from Coromandel Mudflats
40+ Beached Whales Freed from Coromandel Mudflatsby Spike Mountjoy
More than 40 stranded pilot whales were heading back out to sea this evening (Sunday) after a massive effort to rescue a pod of 63 found on the mudflats in Colville Bay, Coromandel, this morning.
More than 200 hundred tourists and locals turned out with blankets and buckets to save them.
By 10 am volunteers had formed a human chain to bucket water to the surviving animals in an attempt to keep them cool.
Local contractor David Ward drove his digger onto the mudflats and began moving the dead whales away from the rescue effort.
Kalee Kingi was camping at a nearby bay when she heard about the stranding. She struggled to keep a mother and calf alive with cold water and kind words.
"It's so sad, really so sad, but also so good to see people out here doing everything they can to help".
By 2pm the tide was returning and a channel was dug to get water to them sooner.
Teams of three and four focused on a single whale and by 2.30 most of the whales were floating.
Some of the animals became hard to restrain but volunteers were instructed to keep with them so they could all be released at the same time.
They were walked out of the bay until the water was deep enough.
After their release many of the animals seemed disorientated, some floating upside down to the concern of their rescuers.
It took another half hour before the tired mammals regained their balance and were able to head out into the bay.
A small flotilla of boats accompanied the pod out to sea in an attempt to keep them on track.
Whale specialist Mike Donahue said it was likely the pod had become confused in a "pilot error"
He said their sonar can misread sandy bays for open ocean.
Donahue, who is also a Coromandel local, said Colville resembled a classic whale stranding bay and he was surprised it hadn't happened there before.
The bay is very tidal and the water can recede quickly.
Whale experts with the Department of Conservation are concerned the Whales will return to the bay and become stranded again later in the evening.
Images of the stranding follow:
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