Around 50 Project Jonah Marine Mammal Medics are helping keep 77 stranded long-finned pilot whales alive on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay as night falls and efforts to save them are put on hold.
Of the 99 that stranded around lunch time today (subs: 23 January 2012), 22 have died, with Department of Conservation (DOC) staff, Project Jonah Medics and members of the public working hard to give the remainder the best chance of surviving through the night.
"The failing light and a quickly rising tide make continuing our first aid action too dangerous," says Kimberly Muncaster, Project Jonah CEO.
"We can only hope that some of the whales make it back to the ocean by themselves on the high tide at 11.00pm, and that those left on the beach in the morning are still alive and able to be refloated on the following high tide."
Today's stranding happened seven kilometres along Farewell Spit, and just two kilometres further on from a stranding earlier this month in which 25 whales beached. The group includes many mothers and young animals.
"Pilot whales are very social, family-oriented creatures that often follow a stranding pod member onto the shore rather than leave it," Ms Muncaster says.
"This is looking like it could be a protracted ordeal for many of them, and as time moves on, the young in particular become increasingly vulnerable."
Project Jonah volunteers will be at the stranding site with DOC staff at first light tomorrow to assess the situation and begin work immediately to help any remaining live whales survive until high tide and an attempt to refloat them.
"It is impossible to predict what we will find at first light," Ms Muncaster says.
"More volunteers will definitely be needed in the morning, but they may face an enormous challenge and must come prepared. The Project Jonah website, www.projectjonah.org.nz lists all items helpers should bring to keep themselves and everyone else safe."
Project Jonah Marine Mammal Medics and members of the public who are available to assist are encouraged to check the Project Jonah website and Facebook page in the morning for instructions.
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