Whales are stranded at Farewell Spit near Nelson, New Zealand Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. New Zealand volunteers formed a human chain in the water at a remote beach on Friday as they tried to save about 100 whales after more than 400 of the creatures beached themselves in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation's history. About three-quarters of the pilot whales were already dead when they were found Friday morning at Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. (Tim Cuff/New Zealand Herald via AP)
Footage shows hundreds of stranded whales
00:45 - Source: CNN

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Volunteers prevent dead whale carcasses from exploding using locally-built tools

The surviving pod of whales still risk beaching themselves

CNN  — 

Conservation officials have been puncturing the carcasses of hundreds of dead pilot whales stranded on a New Zealand beach to prevent them from exploding on volunteers.

“In the heat, the whales can explode, but we’ve taken steps to prevent that,” Trish Grant, a spokeswoman for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, told CNN.

“Our staff has been puncturing the dead whales, using an implement that releases the gas (inside their carcasses) that someone local has built for us.”

Excavators will be used to move the dead whales further up Farewell Spit in Golden Bay, which is on the tip of New Zealand’s South Island, to a location in the nature reserve that’s not open to the public.

From Friday to Sunday, around 400 whales died on Farewell Spit, the conservation department said in a statement. It’s the third largest mass beaching of whales in the country’s history.

Hundreds of whales dead after mass stranding

Mass stranding

Pilot whales lie on a beach during a mass stranding at Farewell Spit on February 11, 2017.

Grant told CNN that the department had spent Monday monitoring a pod of whales still in the Golden Bay area from the coastline amid concerns that they would also beach themselves.

“We’ve finished for tonight, but we’ll resume our searches tomorrow. The whales are still in the Golden Bay area relatively close to shore and there’s a risk that they could strand overnight,” Grant said.

Whales were first spotted in the water late on Thursday night, by a department staffer, before being found on the beaches of Farewell Spit Friday morning.

Hundreds of volunteers joined the rescue effort.

Whale trap

Farewell Spit is considered to be a whale trap due to its shallow water, said Grant.

A member of the public looks at the dead Pilot whales during a mass stranding at Farewell Spit on February 11, 2017.

The largest whale stranding event in New Zealand took place in 1918, when 1,000 whales stranded themselves on the Chatham Islands. The second largest was in Auckland in 1985, when 450 ended up on a beach.

Grant said that many factors can be involved in whale beachings.

“Sometimes it can be caused by a diseased member among them - because they have strong social bonds, if one of them gets in trouble, the rest can follow,” explained Grant.

CNN’s Ben Westcott contributed to this report