Nearly 60 pilot whales have died after becoming stranded on a beach in New Zealand on Friday, conservation officials said.
The mass stranding of a pod of 73 whales was discovered mid-morning and Carolyn Smith from the Department of Conservation said the whales probably beached overnight, which was why so many died before a rescue operation was launched.
The area around Kaitaia beach, in the far north of New Zealand, was experiencing heavy rain and wind which Smith said helped the surviving whales by ensuring they did not dry out but made it difficult for rescuers preparing to refloat the mammals.
At least five people are needed to work with each of the whales, which weigh up to 1.5 tonnes.
Whale beachings are not uncommon along the New Zealand coast and more than 100 pilot whales died in a stranding in the South Island last December.
(c) 2010 AFP