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September 20, 2017

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NZ rescuers plan to truck stranded whales to safety

WELLINGTON-- The pod of about 80 whales was found stranded on Wednesday at Spirits Bay, 320 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Auckland, the second mass beaching in the area in two months.

Only 24 have survived and Department of Conservation officials said that conditions in Spirits Bay were still too rough to attempt to refloat them, so they would be trucked to Rarawa Beach, about 50 kilometers away.

"This is a complex operation... so we need to be extra careful in how we plan and execute the rescue effort," the department's Jonathon Maxwell said. The whales, weighing up to two tonnes each, will be wrapped in heavy wet cloth and surrounded by hay bales in the trucks, with volunteers traveling with them to try to reduce the animals' stress.

Whale researcher Karen Stockin said the whales had eaten before they beached and appeared strong.

Last month, 63 pilot whales stranded themselves near Kaitaia, about 90 kilometers away. Only nine survived.

Scientists are unsure why pilot whales beach themselves, although they speculate it may occur when their sonar becomes scrambled in shallow water or when a sick member of the pod heads for shore and others follow.

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