Photo: AP

Early on Saturday, dozens of volunteers worked to refloat about 100 of the 40o whales that mysteriously beached themselves in New Zealand. But their rescue effort quickly escalated when 240 more were stranded. It’s all the more frustrating that no one is certain why this is happening.

On Thursday, more than 400 pilot whales were discovered at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. Between 250 and 300 of them had already died by the time New Zealand’s Department of Conservation arrived. Rescuers worked to keep the whales cool with wet towels and when the tide was high, they pushed about 100 back out to sea.

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Horrifyingly, a fresh wave of whales made their way to the beach and rescuers formed a human chain in a futile attempt to block them.

Prevalent theories for the cause of this disaster include shallow waters disrupting the whale’s echolocation and the fact that these mammals are extremely social. When a member of the pod is stranded and sends a distress signal it’s not unusual for other pod-mates to end up beached as well.

Another theory is that the initial bunch was fleeing a shark attack because bite marks were found on at least one of the dead whales. The hundreds of newly beached whales may still be trying to help their fallen friends.

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The first wave of 400 whales marked this as the largest mass stranding of whales since 1985 when 450 were beached at Great Barrier Island.

Farewell Spit in New Zealand. (Image: NASA)

This sort of occurrence isn’t unheard of at Farewell Spit. Last year 200 whales stranded themselves on its beach. “It’s a very difficult place if you get lost in there and you are a whale,” Herb Christophers of New Zealand’s department of conservation told the BBC.

Now, the dedicated folks who are trying to help must do their best to keep the whales alive while they wait for the high tide that will come in on Sunday. And there is still the problem of cleaning up all of those carcasses of the deceased which can’t just be pushed out to sea due to fears they’ll become bloated and wash up on public beaches.