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Cleanup Follows Deaths of 400 Whales

Grisly Cleanup Follows Deaths of 400 Whales in New Zealand                                              

After the strandings comes the gruesome cleanup.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation said early Tuesday that it had to use excavators and dump trucks to move the carcasses of more than 200 pilot whales away from the coastline, where they had become beached, and onto the sand dunes.

“They are in the dunes now, beginning the slow process of rotting down,” said Andrew Lamason, an operations manager for the department.

Within the past week, more than 650 whales became stranded on Farewell Spit, at the northern tip of South Island. It was one of the country’s largest pilot whale strandings ever.

Many were successfully refloated, and hundreds of whales were saved, according to the authorities.

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But several had to be euthanized, others became stuck again after returning to the beach, and many could not be saved. About 400 died.

Officials late Monday were still monitoring a pod of about 200 whales that were swimming close to the coast and at a continued risk of being stranded, the Department of Conservation said. “No whales have stranded overnight,” Project Jonah, a conservation group helping to coordinate the rescue, said in a Facebook post early Tuesday.

The officials warned of a risk that decomposing whale carcasses could explode from an internal gas buildup, and on Monday conservation workers punctured some of the carcasses to release any internal gas, the BBC reported.

By Tuesday morning, officials had finished removing all the decomposing carcasses they could reach. Overnight, 200 whales had been transported more than a mile to the dunes by two large excavators and two dump trucks, each capable of carrying 15 whales at a time.

Other whales in inaccessible areas that the vehicles could not reach were left where they were, Mr. Lamason said. The trucks finished delivering their loads around 3 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

Mr. Lamason said that leaving the carcasses in the water would have helped them decompose faster, but that might have posed a danger to people visiting the coast.

“There is nothing attractive about these whales after they have been on the beach for a few days,” he said. “All their internal organs have exploded. The skin has peeled off. The smell is unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

The Department of Conservation said pathologists at Massey University in New Zealand were planning to study some of the dead animals to learn how they had died.

Whale strandings at Farewell Spit occur most years, but the high number of whales trapped this year surprised officials.

The strandings prompted an outpouring of emotion among local people and visitors and brought hundreds of volunteers onto the beach to help the rescue.

The volunteers formed human chains in the water to stop other whales from approaching the beach.

They sang songs, doused the pilot whales with buckets of water, draped wet cloths and sheets onto the beached whales to keep them cool and helped with the refloating.

Local Maori representatives offered a karakia, or prayer, over the dead whales.

Over the weekend, so many volunteers crowded the area that officials asked people to keep away from the coast, warning of parking problems in the area.

Those who did come were told to wear wet suits and were warned about the safety risks.

“Whales can become agitated when stressed and can injure or even kill a human with a small flick of a whale fin or tail,” the department warned on its website.

“They also carry diseases, so people need to avoid contact with blowhole exhalant or body fluids.”

Courtesy of the New York Times and Getty Images

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