Volunteers Form Human Chain to Save Dozens of Beached Whales in New Zealand

February 25, 2021 at 5:32 pm

Good Samaritans rescue over half of a pod of 50 beached whales, who likely beached themselves to escape the agonizing sound of naval sonar.

When a pod of 49 pilot whales beached themselves on a New Zealand beach on Monday, a team of 200 volunteers organized a tireless two-day effort to get them back in the water.

The animal lovers and environmental activists formed a “human chain” to guide the animals back into deeper waters, one by one.

CREDIT: Nina Hindmarsh/Stuff

The effort started by drenching the whales with buckets of water to keep them cool throughout the day, keeping them upright so they didn’t put too much pressure on their fins, and then helping the whales “refloat” themselves during the evening high tide.

CREDIT: Nina Hindmarsh/Stuff

CREDIT: Nina Hindmarsh/Stuff

The whales were initially found spread out all over the beach. Nine of them were already dead. The team’s first goal was to herd them back together into a pod.

The purpose of the human chain was so the whales could “re-orientate” and so the volunteers could “keep them together, otherwise there’s a risk of re-stranding if they take off on their own,” said Darren Foxwell of the Department of Conservation, which helped organize the effort, along with a whale rescue group called Project Jonah and local residents.

Project Jonah volunteers formed a similar chain to save hundreds of whales in 2017. CREDIT: Reuters

Once they got them into deep enough water, boats took over, zipping back and forth to prevent the whales from swimming back to shore.

Project Jonah volunteers formed a similar chain to save hundreds of whales in 2017. CREDIT: Getty Images

Tuesday morning, the pod had re-beached itself, but this time only 28 were alive, and their chances at survival looked slim.

“By that point the whales had become languid and were making little effort to swim away,” Department of Conservation ranger Andrew Lamason said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the pod had successfully swum offshore thanks to another human chain effort.

CREDIT: Nina Hindmarsh/Stuff

“Volunteers have been pulled out of the water now, because the whales are swimming below the low tide zone and heading out to sea,” Lamason reported. “That’s really good news; such good news that I’m going home.”

An average of 300 whales and dolphins beach themselves in New Zealand each year.

The last mass stranding at this location (Farewell Spit, a remote beach on the South Island) was in 2017.

More than 650 pilot whales beached themselves in two separate mass strandings. More than 350 died while about 300 were saved by Project Jonah (donate here).

While the BBC blames the island’s geographical shape, changing ocean temperatures and feeding patterns, a 2019 study blames naval sonar.

Since the 1960s, scientists have noted a link between the use of naval sonar and whales seemingly killing themselves, en masse, by stranding themselves on beaches.

The sound emitted by sonar is literally unbearable to marine mammals, causing them to swim hundreds of miles, dive deep into the abyss or even beach themselves to escape it.

“In short, the sound pulses appear to scare the whales to death, acting like a shot of adrenaline might in a human,” the researchers said.

RELATED: New Study Blames Naval Sonar for Whale Mass Suicides