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Dozens of whales die in mass-stranding on New Zealand beach

Volunteers are trying to keep dozens of beached pilot whales alive as they wait for high tide on a remote beach in New Zealand. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

A mass-stranding of whales on a New Zealand beach has left 36 of the creatures dead.

John Mason, area manager of the country's Department of Conservation said 99 pilot whales stranded themselves Monday on Farewell Spit on the South Island. By Tuesday, 36 whales had died and another 40 remained stranded and were in danger.


Mason said conservation staff and volunteers had successfully refloated 17 whales, which had swum out to deeper water. Another six whales remained unaccounted for.

Project Jonah via AP

Stranded pilot whales are helped by volunteers at Farewell Spit on New Zealand's South Island.

The 40 beached whales were briefly swimming in shallow water early Tuesday afternoon local time (late Monday ET) but became stranded again by the evening as the tide went out. Mason said volunteers would try to keep the whales cool and wet until dark. He said after that, all they could hope for was that the whales would swim away on the next high tide.

Pilot whales grow to about 20 feet, and large strandings are common during the New Zealand summer. Experts describe Farewell Spit as a whale trap due to the way its shallow waters seem to confuse whales and diminish their ability to navigate.

Department of Conservation Takaka ranger Nigel Mountfort told television station TVNZ the overnight conditions at the site were "pretty inhospitable".

Mountfort said rescuers in wetsuits would try to form a human wall and try to stop refloated whales coming back ashore.

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The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.