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Whale pod strands near Farewell Spit

Friday 13 Feb 2015 1:50 p.m.

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A large pod of close to 200 pilot whales have stranded near Farewell Spit near Golden Bay.

The Department of Conservation staff and Project Jonah volunteers are currently on the scene.

RadioLIVE are reporting 70 of the 198 whales have died, but 130 have been refloated in the tide.

"We managed to get a good half out, and latest word is that all the ones we did refloat stayed out, which is a big moral boost," says Project Jonah volunteer Kyle Mulinder.

Golden Bay Conservation services manager Andrew Lamason said earlier today around 24 had died.

"It's a lot of whales and a very difficult and challenging environment and there's no guarantee they won't come back onshore," says Mr Lamason.

Because of the size of the stranding, DOC is urging people to keep away unless they have proper experience and equipment, for example wetsuits.

Mr Lamason said the weather conditions were "fantastic" for sunbathers, but not for whales with the current temperature at 22degC.

Some of the whales stranded were parents and their fresh calves.

"You could still see the neo-natal folds, little folds and creases on their skin, so they were just born," says Takaka DOC ranger Mike Ogle. "I've seen a [pilot whale] foetus of 1.6m and these ones were less than that."

Strandings are common at Golden Bay, but The DOC says this is a big one.

"It's the biggest one we have had for 10 or 15 years," says Mr Ogle.

More than 100 volunteers joined the battle today, but it wasn't enough.

DOC says up to 500 volunteers could be needed to help get the whales back in the water tomorrow.

But Project Jonah warns the experience could be an emotional one.

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