Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Dozens of whales die on New Zealand beaches

Volunteers try to help a stranded whale at Colville Bay, North Island, New Zealand - 27 December 2009
Volunteers helped more than 40 stranded whales back out to sea

More than 120 beached whales have died in two separate incidents in New Zealand, officials have said.

Twenty one pilot whales that were beached on the North Island of New Zealand have been buried.

About 40 other whales in the pod were helped back out to sea by volunteers and government conservation workers over the weekend.

A separate pod of 105 long-finned pilot whales died after being stranded in a nature reserve on the South Island.

Large numbers of whales become stranded on New Zealand's beaches each summer as they pass by on their way to breeding grounds from Antarctic waters.

Sacred headland

The larger group of stranded whales was discovered at Farewell Spit on the north end of the South Island by the pilot of a tourist plane.

Only 30 were alive when conservation workers arrived.

Map of New Zealand showing locations of whale beachings

"They were in bad shape. By the time we got there two-thirds of them had already died. We had to euthanize the rest," said department of conservation worker Hans Stoffregen.

"It has been quite hot and they were very distressed. You could see the pain and suffering in their eyes," he said, explaining that the whales had missed several tides and been out of the water for a long time.

"It was horrible but nothing could have been done to save them. It was the most humane thing to do," he said.

Because the site was in a natural reserve, the whale carcasses were left where they stranded, to decompose, Mr Stoffregen said.

The 21 whales that did not survive the other stranding, on the North Island, were buried beneath a headland considered sacred by local Maori people, TVNZ said.

Hundreds of holiday-makers had dashed to try to save the group of whales which beached at Colville Beach on the Coromandel peninsula in the northeast of the North Island over the weekend.

They managed to save 42 whales, most of them cows and calves. TV New Zealand said one of the cows gave birth immediately after being rescued.

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